Why do some children behave badly? They throw things around the room and scream at the people they love and depend on. These are the same people who sacrifice for them and want them to be happy.

These caregivers feel guilty, as if they were responsible for their distress. Then the child feels guilty for making them feel guilty!

Guilt is painful. Often children feel guilty for hurting their parents when they don’t deserve it. Then they are angry at themselves for the way they behaved. In addition, parents feel guilty of failing to resolve their child’s pain. Then they are angry at themselves for being so helpless.

When problems cannot be resolved, everyone involved feels inadequate. We take our failure to solve these problem personally, as if it were a reflection on their self-worth. As a result, our behavior doesn’t always make sense.

It is a mistake to look for sense when logic has nothing to do with it. The prefrontal cortex (judgement center) of a child’s brain is not fully developed and does not function as well as an adults. A child’s thoughts do not arise out of intellectual processes. They are emotional reactions towards themselves, others and world.

While everyone is born with the potential to feel and express anger, each person has different learning experiences that cause him/her to react to frustration differently. Children learn how to feel and respond from their families and surroundings. For example, if childten respond angrily to being put to bed for a nap and the parents give in to their protests, these children have learned that expressed anger can get them what they want. They may carry this learning into adulthood. Similarly, children experience how they feel when angry and accept these feelings. Then, as adults, they do not question whether they should feel angry or not. .

When these feelings are in control, the child is out-of-control. That is terrifying for the child and for everyone else in the room. Our tendency as caregivers is to try to stop or ‘fix’ them. We use dominance to impose external control in ways that have nothing to do with what is going on inside of the child.

We need to understand the child’s rage, not in terms of logic, but in terms of what she/he is trying to accomplish:

– The child is trying to punish us for causing the pain she/he is in.

– The child is trying to bring us down to her/his level of pain.

– The child is punishing her/his self for failing to be good enough.

– The child is trying to relieve the pain by venting in ways that do not work.

One way to manage these feelings, is to have the child write their anger out of their system. Writing helps us to feel relief from pressure, tension and stress. Specifically, the pain from the inherent powerlessness and vulnerability of childhood. Writing helps to put the problem into a new, more manageable perspective.

We can say to the child:
“When we get angry, it’s only an imperfect human being having ups and downs like everyone else.”

“Can we forgive each other for what happened?”

“Can we choose to respect our relationship in spite of the anger?”

“I am sorry that you are so unhappy, but it’s forgivable. That’s the choice you have to make. To forgive me or not. It’s up to you.”

“Forgiveness helps us to let it go and move on. We are still worthwhile in spite of our mistakes. Does that make sense?”

“We are family and I will never love you less and I will never love you more, no matter how hard or easy things are.”

“I don’t expect things to be perfect at all. I expect you to be a regular person, with highs and lows, just like everyone else.”

Photo by Wootang01