You need to give your child a chance to express negative feelings by talking him through them.
My eleven-year old son is a fifth grader. Ever since he was a baby, he has had a
tendency to fly into a rage over trivial matters, making our life difficult. We expected
him to change as he grew older, but he seems to be getting worse. He frequently yells at his
friends, and his teachers have all warned him repeatedly, to no avail. My husband and I are
both mild tempered and we hardly ever raise our voices in argument, but my husband's father is
quick-tempered. He's been known to fly into a rage, just like our son, and I wonder if this tendency
might be hereditary. Is there any way to help my child control his temper? Is there a way to
draw a sunnier, milder disposition out of him, or are we doomed to suffer his rages, and see them
carry into adulthood?
A: Human emotion, as the saying goes, is "one's eyes and ears", revealing what is happening
inside, in relationship with others, and in relation to the environment. Acknowledging
emotions and accepting them allows one to grow. Anger is a basic human feeling. How we handle
it can affect the quality of life we enjoy, and drastically alter our direction.
Flying off the handle like your son does can lead to rejection and isolation. The older he gets,
the more difficult it will be to control his anger, leading to deeper isolation.
On the other hand, being too frightened to express "negative" emotions, like anger, can lead to
repression, turning the anger inward. Depression and low self-esteem are common byproducts.
It is therefore important to analyze the nature of your son's anger and the source, in order to
help him deal with it.
To begin with, take a closer look at your own anger coping mechanism, in order to gain insight
into your son's. Ask yourself the following questions.
(1)Have I ever thrown things at others or slammed doors in anger?
(2)In recalling unpleasant past events involving anger, do I instantly get furious, as before?
(3)Do I tend to hold onto my anger long after the precipitating incident, which may have been
harmless or unintended, like the stylist cutting my hair shorter than I wanted?
(4)Do I suffer from road rage, acting with impatience and anger when someone cuts me off driving?
(5)Have I dropped long-term relationships and friendships over some imagined hurt, which
in retrospect appears blown up out of proportion?
(6)I am angered over trivial habits and actions of family members?
(7)Does my pulse beat rapidly when I argue with someone?
(8)Does the inadequacy or stupidity of others make me angry?
(9)Do I suspect shopkeepers of trying to cheat me when giving me change?
(10)If someone is late for an appointment with me, do I grow enraged, rehearsing my angry
If your answer is "yes" to 4-7 questions, then you are sustaining a habitual state of anger
that can cause you physical illness. If you answered yes to 8 or more, you are at risk of serious
physical and/or mental distress. How can you expect to help your children cope with their anger,
if you can't control your own?
If, on the other hand, you are able to express anger within a comfortable range, and repression
is not an issue, then you need to take a closer look at the reasons your son is angry, and try to
help him talk through his concerns. Often the problem is not at home, where the child feels "safe
enough" to express his anger, but at school, where he may be unhappy with the treatment he is
receiving from peers, or with his status, or academic expectations and performance, or romantic
contacts (or lack of).
Secondly, he could benefit from learning some anger management skills. Anger in and of itself is
neither good nor bad, but is rather a symptom of our current state of mind. The more uncomfortable
one is with his anger, the harder it is to resolve constructively.
Extreme anger, rage, requires coping skills to learn how to cool it down. Simplistic as it sounds,
sometimes it's helpful to count to ten, or take a walk around the block, and return with a fresh
perspective. As anyone who has been involved in domestic squabbles can attest, arguments can be
self-perpetuating and trivial, though fed by deep-seated hurts and anger. Coping skills can go a
long way toward diffusing such habitual anger mechanisms.
Sometimes, the remedy lies in teaching someone like your son assertiveness skills, as the anger
they explode with is really the product of countless acts of self-attrition, in which their
emotional integrity, for fear of rejection and loss of love, is compromised and trampled.
Regardless of how busy you and your husband may be, you need to make the time to draw your son out
and get to the bottom of his anger and frustration. Don't let his anger pile up. If you find you
cannot get him to open up, perhaps it's time to consult a specialist, like a school counselor or
psychologist. Surely, organic reasons for his ill-tempered disposition should be ruled out first,
by arranging a thorough physical with your family doctor.
A sunny and mild disposition may not be natural for your son, but certainly freeing him from the source
of his anger and frustration can put him on the path to a more balanced expression of his "personal best."