Seven-year-old Sherri's eyes were ablaze, her sturdy body taut and her voice shrill: "I don't want to clean my room, and you can't make me! I hate you!"
What parent hasn't struggled with an angry child? Although anger is a typical response for many 5- to 8-year-olds, it's rarely the primary emotion. At this age, angry behavior is often the result of other feelings that may be new to your child: tender, vulnerable or downright painful feelings.
Developmentally, children this age are learning to be responsible. This means more is expected of them: handling new tasks at home and at school, accepting one's faults honestly and making reasonably good choices.
For Sherri, cleaning up a room cluttered with clothes, toys and school papers may appear to be an overwhelming and seemingly impossible chore. She may believe the task is an excessive burden and that she has been singled out for unfair treatment. Such feelings are likely to be expressed as "You're mean! You're not fair! Sam doesn't have to work like I do!"
Early elementary school children have mixed feelings: they want to be big, but sometimes feel little. When teachers and parents place demands on them they feel are too heavy, they may feel overwhelmed. But rather than admitting that, they act aggressively or express their anger through resistance.
Try not to give in to your child's seeming anger and don't take accusations seriously. This stage is built on a foundation of trust, the healthy separation of a child from dependency on parents and the growth of a sense of initiative and creativity.
Once you understand why your child is getting angry, you'll have a better idea how to respond to him. Here are several suggestions:
Require a brief time-out for both you and your child. The time-out can be a quiet period or it can be a few minutes of exercise. A few children are biologically wired to feel such intense, sudden rage that they need physical activity to get some release. Hitting a mattress, doing sit-ups or running in place will quickly metabolize the stress hormones that cause this intensity. The child can calm down sooner.
Clarify the core problem. When both you and your child are rational, help her connect the anger with its cause, so she can develop tools to defuse the emotion.
Help your child decide what he can do to resolve the problem. By teaching your child to solve his own problems, you are giving him a life-long skill. Your child eventually will learn to work through his own anger, make good choices and learn from the consequences of those choices.
Even Scripture encourages us to overcome anger: " ?In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (Eph. 4:26). With a little help from you, your child can overcome anger by recognizing it, understanding its cause and working it out.
?Dr. Grace Ketterman
Child psychiatrist, author, mother of three
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