A mother puts into practice the advice she read on how to deal with anger in children.
Heads are turning. I am standing in our favorite toy store and praying for an earthquake to fracture the floor and take me down or for a tsunami to swallow us all up. I told them we were only going to be looking and they agreed. I gave them a five-minute warning, which they said they would comply with. But, before we go my five-year-old spots something he wants and breaks down when I say no. Then, I have to pull my screaming nearly-three-year-old away from the Chuggington Train Table. I can feel the watchful eyes of other customers and of the store clerk boring into me as I put up a shield to protect myself from judgment.
A toy goes flying. Another toy is launched. As I was paying attention to my older son, the younger one grabbed two random toys in anger and threw them. And, in this moment, I realize that I am that mom with those kids. My embarrassment prevents me from remaining super calm and my first course of action is to get the hell out of that store. I grab one small hand and with my free hand I grab the shoulder of my younger son. Too much pressure? I can’t be sure, but I’ve got his attention and he’s standing still. I swiftly pick up the toys he has strewn about and grab his hand. We are out the door. They are both crying. Scratch that, they are both screaming.
Heads are turning. I summon up calm from the deep. The nearly-three-year old is mad because he had to leave the train table but in less than four minutes he has stopped crying. The anger seeping out of my five-year-old is different. He’s really fighting back and holding on to his rage and when I tell him that we are going home and not going for the ice cream that I promised before the toy store, he is furious. He is yelling at me, “I want ice cream.” He doesn’t sound like my normally considerate and sensitive child. He sounds like an alien.
And then he starts to do what he always does when he’s made at me for drawing a line, for reinforcing a boundary. He starts taking away my privileges and delivering consequences to me. I calmly tell him that his behavior is inappropriate and that he is not showing gratitude. But, of course I know he’s not listening. I have to say it, though, despite the fact that he has gone to the dark place. And, then, for the rest of the 35 minute car ride, I say nothing.
A Few weeks ago, I read Donna Leskosek’s article Taming the Beast – Anger in Children and I even forwarded it to my husband and a few of my closest friends. We have all nearly survived the terrible twos and now have pre-schoolers and school-aged kids. I was pleased at how much sank in and how close I stuck to what Donna had written. I only restrained and touched them to get us out of the toy store. Then, I let go and walked slightly ahead checking frequently to ensure they were safe and following me. I kept my voice calm. After I buckled them up (my five-year-old refused to do it himself), I removed all objects from their reach as I wasn’t fully confident that a die cast car wouldn’t be propelled at my head as I drove down the highway. I played Mozart while he screamed the entire way home.
By the time we pulled into our driveway, his screams had subsided to muffled whimpers and I carried him into the house, put him in his bed, turned around and walked out the door as I told him we both needed a bit of space. He was mad again, but did not cry for long. Fifteen minutes later, he came out, gave me a hug and said he was sorry. I reiterated how it made me feel that he was not grateful for the lovely afternoon we had been enjoying; our picnic and visit to the Ocean Discovery Centre. I reminded him that it had embarrassed me that he had reacted the way he did. I left it there and a day later we talked about this anger.
At five, he has a hard time expressing his feelings still. He didn’t know why he got so mad and he only said that being angry made him feel sad. We read a few books on anger, fighting, apologizing and hugging to make up. I asked him if he was worried about school starting in September and he said, ‘no.’ And, so this incident is officially over.
I have learned that kids let go of emotions very easily after they are finished with them. As we get older, we learn to hang on. I don’t think really young kids are capable of resentment and bitterness. This is something we learn. I’ve talked about the toy store incident with my husband, mother, mother-in-law and to my friends. While I know this is just a stage he is going through and that I’m doing my best to address it, I somehow hang on a bit more than he does. And, perhaps because he’s a boy, a small part of me worries about him having ‘anger management issues.’
On the whole, though, I – like Donna – think kids are worth it. But, I am always left feeling drained by my sons’ anger and I think I might still be learning how to duck.
Irene Austen – http://www.ireneausten.com/