The title of this blog is not anger specific, but for the purpose of the Facebook live I am doing on October 1st, 2018, Understanding Anger in Children and Young People, let’s focus on anger for today.
Our developing self learns how to survive and get our needs met at a very young age, this is what makes us so versatile. We’re not programmed to be a certain way, therefore what ever culture and environment we are born into - we adapt and survive.
We learn who to trust, who offers comfort and who to be weary of - survival is key. We need to survive in our own home and we need to survive in the wider world, so we watch carefully and interpret. The difficulty here, is that a lot of learning doesn’t come with explicit instruction, permission or condemnation, instead we gather the information to make a decision if something is OK or not, in a number of ways..
Do our significant caretakers and attachment figures tell us it’s OK to feel and express anger? This is the explicit, spoken permission that you may recall from your own childhood, or maybe not? The spoken permission is really important and is sometimes missing when we assume that this is a given. Unfortunately we don’t all develop a linear relationship with emotions and so what seems very basic knowledge i.e. anger is just as important as happiness, is not always in awareness.
There is a difference between giving permission to feel and express it and giving permission to hurt with it. Click here to see how you can help your children to use anger safely.
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If you’ve ever read my blogs before, the chances are you have heard me refer to the importance of our walk matching our talks… This is because what ever we say explicitly becomes undermined if we do not model it ourselves. Imagine a parent telling their child that it’s OK to feel and be angry but then sending them to their room for expressing it, or the child then seeing their parent leaving the room and crying during a situation which would justify anger. Can you see how the messages become conflicting?
We watch how others express and how others respond to us when we express, we then interpret what that means for us. We could conclude that it’s OK but we could add conditions such as “it’s OK for me to be angry so long as I don’t show it”. Ultimately, even if you explicitly give your children permission to be angry, you could also be giving the opposite message in your own body language and how you respond to their attempts at being angry.
I want to say at this point, that I’m not suggesting you should give your children permission to express anger how ever it comes. Whilst they are developing their identity with the hugely energetic emotion, they will make mistakes and it’s important that you guide them. It’s also important that we are aware of how shaming and confusing it can be to be suddenly met with hostility and anger.
When we feel intense emotion, our brain interprets and decisions or beliefs are created. This theory can seem conflicting at first as many of us have learned that we feel what we think, suggesting then that our feelings start with a cognitive process. This is still true, however, we also know that our body speaks to our brain via hormones, our brain is responsible for responding appropriately in order to keep us safe.
In the context of anger, our children will have a physiological reaction to the anger around them and to others’ responses to their own anger. Whether their physical experience is baseline i.e. no heightened arousal or heightened, this will contribute to their developing relationship with it.
There is no fixed rule here either. I worked for many years supporting children and young people who lived in and therefore survived very angry, aggressive and violent homes and they did not all have the same relationship with anger. Some learned that it would put them at greater risk if they were to allow their anger to be seen whilst others learned that it was their way to create an element of control and safety - illustrating that there is a whole spectrum of possibilities.
It’s really important that we don’t take children’s relationship with any of their feelings for granted, that we actively talk about them with THEM, so they can develop awareness, so that we can also understand their perspective; what it is that they’re focusing on and then what’s informing their beliefs about them. Only then can we counterbalance negative thoughts and beliefs, only then can we know what we needs to do as parents and carers to model better and only then can they develop healthier relationships with their emotions and themselves.
To conclude, model anger by…
speaking your truth, not what you think you should be saying. If you’re saying it’s OK to feel and be angry - do you actually believe that? Maybe you do believe it cognitively but emotionally it may not be so straight forward. If you don’t like your reality surrounding anger, then take some time to think why that is and what you can do to develop a better relationship with it yourself. Contact me if you would like to book a online coaching appointment which would allow you to explore this further.
actively speaking about it. If we assume our children are doing OK with their developing relationship with anger, we are missing opportunities to be involved, for them to build confidence and language in talking to us and we may miss the signs of them needing our help. By understanding their own motivations around anger, they also develop boundaries with regards to what they will accept from others they have relationships with.
walking the walk. If it’s OK for your children to feel and be angry - then it’s OK for you too! If you say one thing and do another, you give conflicting messages and don’t forget, they’re like little detectives so on some level, they will see this!