Children’s anger and tantrums
Do you notice your child is getting angrier more often since the separation? Maybe they are having tantrums more now? It is common. Here, child psychologist Malin Bergström talks more about children’s anger and how you as a parent can manage it. Small moments of full presence often make a big difference when children feel angry.
A summary of this article below.
Reasons for anger
Divorce often means that children lose something important to them, such as contact with relatives, money, status or a home they felt comfortable in. This is why it’s not surprising that many children react with anger and irritability. Sometimes this anger is due to parents not having their usual energy to distract, joke and prevent outbursts. The frustration can also be due to the child’s routines being disrupted. Children can also become angry and rejecting towards the parent they perceive as being “guilty” of the divorce. Despite anger and sadness often go hand in hand. For many it is easier to become angry than to show that they are sad.
The anger can be a grief reaction that needs to be expressed. Talking to a child during an outburst does not help, as the child is blinded by their emotion. In this case it is better to try to calm them down. After an outburst children often become sad, and this is a chance to comfort them and hear what was difficult. Try not to go into defense mode if you are accused, but instead acknowledge that you understand the anger and are sorry that the divorce (or your own behaviour) has affected your child. However, taking on the role of a victim and stopping to set boundaries for an angry child or teenager does not help the child.
This is how you can act…
Just like in other tricky parenting situations, the way forward is to affirm the feelings: “I hear that you’re really angry and don’t want to see me right now,” while setting boundaries and doing what needs to be done, “but let’s still go and visit Grandma and Grandpa together.” This way you show that you have control of the situation and guide your child through life, and that your relationship can withstand the anger. Ideally, sadness will also eventually come out so the child can be comforted. The anger of older children, teenagers and young adults can sometimes last a long time. The best way to repair the relationship is to continue to seek contact, endure the anger and still offer closeness and shared activities. Maybe your child will only confirm several years later that they can understand more of what happened at the time of the divorce.
Moments in every day life make a difference
It is often advised that parents of angry children should plan moments in their everyday life when they are truly present with their child – emotionally accessible and mentally present. As a separated parent, following this advice can be worthwhile regardless of what kind of period the child is in. If you are a single parent, this kind of attention can be needed as the everyday life can become intense when you are solely responsible for everything. If you have a new partner, a child’s relationship with that person can be facilitated by you being there for them alone. This can reduce any potential jealousy. If you share your time with your child or see them less often, those moments are needed to make up for the times when you are apart.
Stay present and interact
The point is to keep the interaction as the focus – without expecting it to lead to anything else. This requires us to let go of our thoughts about “then”. Our dedication to a wild and playful time with our child, is hampered by our experience of how difficult it can be to calm an excited child. It is a natural parental instinct to prevent games from even starting in order to avoid chaos and conflict. With some practice, the balance between calming down and letting go can become a part of parenting. Studies have shown that this balancing act can make a difference, both in your relationship with the child and when it comes to conflicts.
- The separation of parents can mean losses for children of different kinds and it can make children feel angry or irritable.
- Anger can be a masked grief. That is, it can be easier for the child to show anger than grief over the separation.
- Try not to go on the defensive if you are accused. Confirm the child’s feelings instead.
- Continue to seek contact, endure the anger and still be available, offering closeness and joint activities.
- Small moments with the child make a big difference, like five minutes at the dinner table after dinner to talk a bit.
- Let the time with the child be the focus without it leading anywhere, without obligations.