Action: Why is my child behaving this way, what unmet needs does he or she have, and what specific things can I do to help him or her behave better?
Primary Causes of Misbehavior
This child uses anger to hide feelings of low self-esteem from himself or herself and from others.
Primary Needs Being Revealed
Escape from Pain
Because of his or her feelings of low self-esteem, the child becomes angry to cover the pain of failure.
Secondary Needs Being Revealed
Actions to Take
This child needs to be able to act out frustrations positively—to be in control of himself or herself.
The child needs an adult or peer with whom he or she can establish a strong relationship.
Try to give this child responsibility as long as he or she can maintain self-control. You might give the child a leadership role or role of responsibility and reward him or her when it is handled without anger.
- Keep your cool and your calm.
- Don't threaten. If you do, the child will get angrier and may even say, "I don't care what you do."
- Don't put the child down. If you do, he or she may just get sarcastic.
- Try the "Feeling Sorry" technique. If you tell this child that you feel sorry for him or her because he or she is always mad, and ask what you can do to help, you may see a new stance immediately. First, few people ever feel sorry for this child. Second, he or she doesn't want you to do so because it makes him or her feel inferior. Remember, this child likes to believe that he or she has self-control. Therefore, appeal to this need after you've used this technique.
- Avoid any situations that would provoke outbursts. The best time to talk is when this child isn't mad or upset. A close look will reveal that this child is usually very calm, kind, gentle, and rational when he or she isn't angry. Point out this fact—and appeal to the child at these times.
- Talk with your child about his or her lack of self-control. Tell your child, "It's not wrong to get mad. But what you do with your anger is what's good or bad." Never attack the emotion as "bad" or "wrong" or you'll never be able to talk to your child.
- Develop a plan to help the child control his or her anger. Often, something as simple as a prearranged signal for the child to excuse himself or herself or go to his or her room can curtail the behavior immediately.
- Never reward angry behavior. Always tell your child, "The response to your anger is likely to be more anger."
- Never forget, this child needs a calm adult in his or her life.
- Never return the anger; doing so will only justify the behavior.
- Look your child in the eye, listen, and wait until he or she has finished. In fact, ask if he or she is finished before you begin speaking. If possible, don't interrupt. Rather, let your child "run out of gas."
- Speak slowly and quietly. It helps him or her calm down. In fact, the child may be embarrassed by the outburst.
- Use the "Minor Point" technique. Get your child to dissolve the anger over a minor point. Say, "Do you want to talk to Jimmy about this or do you want me to do it?" or "Do you want to go with me to talk to the other parent?"
- At home, you can say, "I love you, but I don't necessarily like what you do."
- Talk to your child about liking himself or herself and and being proud of his or her own actions.
- In the beginning, avoid long talks. Rather, use the "Seed Planting" technique. Mention an idea briefly, in passing. Say, for example, "I don't know; it hurts to be angry all the time," or "When I'm angry, I'm the only one who's hurt." Then say nothing more about it.
- If it's necessary, isolate your child in some safe and loving way so that the tendency to become angry will be greatly reduced. In the process, tell him or her exactly what you are doing and why.
- Tell your child in specific terms the kinds of things that need to be done in order to make his or her behavior acceptable.
- Be prepared for slow improvement in your child's behavior. It will not change overnight. If you expect the child to go from one end of the spectrum to the other, you won't help him or her change.
- Remember, there will be no problem solving until the emotion of anger is eliminated. You must deal with the emotions before the problem solving begins.
- Be prepared to recognize signs of real trouble that indicate psychological problems requiring outside help. Talk with your doctor or school counselor about any concerns you might have.