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  • Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections
    Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections
    EMK Press

Dealing With Your Child's Anger

by Susan M. Ward 

Older adopted children may be filled with lots of anger. The anger may be over small issues or big issues, last for a short time or a long time, and become manageable fairly quickly after arriving into their forever family or go on for years. Few adoptive families avoid dealing with anger.

Anger in adopted children can be connected to issues of grief and loss, language, developmental delays, mental health issues, attachment challenges, poor self-image, limited self-regulation, and much more. There are four aspects for parents to consider as they help their child learn to improve the management of their anger. These include parental attitude, preventative steps, in-the-moment, and after the anger.

PARENTAL ATTITUDE

Your own emotional self-regulation and attitude can help your child feel that they live in a calm, nurturing environment. This doesn’t mean it will stop all angry outbursts, but studies show that attunement, the awareness and connection to your child’s emotions are critical to not only attachment but self-regulation (Rees, 2007). Do whatever you need to keep yourself calm: deep breathing, walks or exercise, enough sleep, and avoiding power struggles with your child.

ANGER PREVENTION

After you’ve worked on developing your calm, matter-of-fact parental attitude, implement anger prevention strategies for your child. Start with exercise. Provide daily opportunities for your child to burn off that negative, angry energy (Laino, 2008). Have her jog with you, run wind sprints, or jump on a trampoline. Don’t do it when you have extra time, instead make it a regular part of your child’s daily routine. To make the exercise even more effective, make sure it’s done outdoors. Being outdoors when exercising can reduce depression, anxiety, and anger (Pretty, 2007).

Next, regarding ways to reduce your adopted child’s anger occurrences, help educate him about emotions. Talk about your own emotions: “When I got mad at myself this morning, I had to jump and down and then take lots of deep breaths to get calm.” And, talk to your child about her emotions. Help her label her emotions i.e. anger, frustration, annoyance, sadness, and excited. Frame his experiences within a positive context. A 2008 study in Social Development found that mothers who talked about positive emotions and helped their child understand about different emotional situations, had children who were less likely to misattribute anger to someone else and were less physically aggressive (Garner, Dunsmore, & Southam-Gerrow, 2008).

IN THE MOMENT OF ANGER

Your attitude is calm, you’ve provided exercise and emotional knowledge, but still your child gets angry. If you can catch your child before the anger gets too big, you may be able to change the course of the anger. A 2011 study showed that parents who can re-direct the child or reframe the situation might reduce the expression of the anger (Morris, Silk, Morris, Steinberg, Katherine, & Keyes, 2011). Re-directing the child may include shifting your child’s focus away from the intense anger. Re-framing may be suggesting another way to consider the problem or situation.

An alternative for dealing with anger that may also work if you catch your child before the anger escalates is to joggle the brain onto a different track. Have your child pat his tummy, jump up and down three times, or do two jumping jacks. When you return to their concern, often their brain has shifted into a calmer place. One last reminder for when your child is in the midst of her anger, do not threaten or try to impose a consequence at that point. Instead, wait until the anger has dissipated.

If your child does fly into an angry rage, there are several things to do. One is to walk away. Think of a toddler who has a full-blown tantrum… until no one is looking… then it suddenly stops. Depending on the age of your child and the intensity of his anger, you might wrap him in your arms and just hold him, talking quietly, until his rage is gone.

AFTER THE ANGER

After the rage, if your child did not hurt anyone or was not destructive, the only follow-up might be a discussion. Questions you might ask include: what triggered your anger, how did it make you feel, and how might you handle it differently in the future? If, however, your child was aggressive or destructive, the discussion should be accompanied by a natural consequence. If she broke something, she needs to work to pay it off. If he hurt someone, he needs to apologize and do restitution to re-build trust. Restitution involves doing something for the other person such as one of the other person’s chores, folding their laundry, drawing them a picture, making them a card, rubbing lotion on their hands or feet, or giving the person a backrub.

Dealing with your child’s anger is not easy. And, because of the gaps in your child’s development due to early abuse or neglect, he needs help learning how to prevent, negotiate, manage, and recover from his anger. Be patient. Provide exercise. Talk about emotions. Re-frame the situation or joggle the brain. Walk away. Ask how they could handle it differently next time. And implement restitution. It won’t be easy, but over time, your child will have new tools for handling and managing her anger now and for the rest of her life.

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References:

Garner, P. W., Dunsmore, J. C., & Southam-Gerrow, M. (2008). Mother–Child Conversations about Emotions: Linkages to Child Aggression and Prosocial Behavior. Social Development, 17(2), 259-277. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2007.00424.x

Laino, C., 2008. Exercise may ward off anger. WebMD Health News.

Morris, A., Silk, J. S., Morris, M. S., Steinberg, L., Katherine J., A., & Keyes, A. W. (2011). The Influence of Mother-Child Emotion Regulation Strategies on Children's Expression of Anger and Sadness. Developmental Psychology, 47(1), 213-225. doi:10.1037/a0021021

Pretty, J. (2007). The healing powers of the great outdoors. New Scientist, 196(2635/2636), 32. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Rees, Corrine. (2007). Childhood attachment. British Journal of General Practice. 57(544): 920–922.

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Copyright 2011, Susan Ward. Not to be used without permission.