It’s often confusing when the young child that was so happy to follow direction gets older and seems increasingly surly, unwilling to respond to your requests, isolates in his room and refuses to help around the house. You never had these problems with each other before, but more and more, there’s this feeling that you’re pulling in different directions. Maybe he has a reason to be angry about something; maybe you have no idea what’s going on.
Parents Have the Power
Although angry children appear to have power when they’re acting out with screaming, slamming doors, refusing to call back when you try to reach them, it’s parents that have the real power in families. Effective parenting means parents are aware of the power they have and know that it’s up to them to use it in ways that will help their children and the family as a whole. If angry children really did have power, they wouldn’t have to act in the above ways. They’re trying to get something they really need and this is the only way they know to get it.
Effective Parenting Means Asking and Listening
In family therapy, counselors know that parents and children often speak different languages. Each side is trying their best to be heard but they don’t know how to communicate with each other. For quite a while, although children may talk—and some talk a lot—they don’t automatically have the skills or developmental ability to be aware of what they’re feeling, to be aware of how their needs are being thwarted. They just vaguely feel something’s wrong and they get frustrated—they become angry children. That’s why, when children are acting in ways that seem to come out of the blue, when they’re acting in ways that don’t make sense for the situation, effective parenting means assuming that they’re hurt in some way, that they need something they’re not getting. And effective parenting means finding out from them what is really going on underneath the angry behavior. When families come to family therapy, one of the main things counselors do is to help with this communication process.
Angry Children Need Emotional Mirroring
One way toward effective parenting is to notice—or guess at—what emotions are just under the surface of what your children are saying or doing. Then be like a mirror for them: “It seems like you’re really frustrated about a lot of things lately. Did something happen that bothered you?” or “I’ve noticed that you’re staying in your room a lot, all alone. When I do that, I’m usually feeling hurt about something or mad about something and I need to think about it. Is that what’s been happening with you? Or something else?” In general, assuming children have a reason for how they’re behaving and asking questions, making guesses about what it could be. Asking open-ended questions to give them space to explore themselves.
Family Therapy Helps With Listening
Once your children give you an answer, it’s important to actually hear what they’re saying and not to dismiss it or defend against it. Keep exploring with them, keep listening and get their input on how to solve the problem. Often they have solutions you, as parents, might never have thought of. This can be a complicated process and a few sessions of family therapy can often be useful.
Helping Angry Children, Helping Confused Parents
There are many tools for improving communication between parents and children and for finding out how to calm down conflict. You can find information and help for your family