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Angry Child - Mum At Her Wits End!

by Zoe Graves
(Milton Keynes, UK)

I am extremely concerned about my 7 yr old son. He has developed such a bad temper lately and screams and shouts at me and when I try to put him in time-out or if I send him to his room he screams and shouts at me more.

He has even gone a step further by kicking and punching me in the stomach and has even punched me in the mouth. He refuses to listen to anyone except from my father who is very strict, but my son does not always listen to him either.

He screams and cries like a 2 year old if he can not get his own way and hates playing with toys, he only likes watching TV and playing computer games.

He is also very needy for food and if he can't get food then he loses his temper and screams and cries again, the longest this has lasted was for 12 hrs with only 6 hrs in between to sleep.

I'm at the end of my rope here and it is now becoming a huge problem within my marriage.

What can I do??

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Angry Child - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Dear Zoe,
Wow! Sounds like you have a very angry child there. It is very hard for parents to cope with kids when it seems they are getting out of control. His violent behaviour to you is very concerning, and of course having a child that is acting out big time puts a huge strain on a relationship.

The good news is, he is at an age where if you get control back now, and learn some skills to bring peace back into your home, you will call a halt to bigger problems as he gets older.

Angry kids are basically giving parents a very loud message that something is very wrong. Sure some kids come into the world with feisty personalities that are very challenging for parents. But what that means is they have needs that are not being met. However, he has learned very unhealthy ways of getting attention, and has not learned to have any kind of control over his feelings.

Food Issues And Behavior

I was also interested that you mentioned he is very needy for food. That raises several flags in my mind - firstly food is associated with love and nurturing in children. The first thing we do with a newborn baby is feed them. Getting held and fed and cuddled is all tied up with feeling loved. As children get older love usually is associated with lots of other interactions with parents, and the food association diminishes.

So I am wondering several things - was there a problem with his birth, with the early days of feeding him? Was he breast fed? Weaned early? How did he take to solid foods, any issues around feeding as a toddler? It is often those early years that set up problems further down the track.

The other issue about food is, I am wondering about food allergies. Some extreme behaviours are related to food allergies, but you did say in your letter, that he has developed a bad temper lately? Is this new behaviour or has he been getting worse over time? If it is recently, have you changed food habits at all, is he eating more of one kind of food?

I would definitely cut out any artificial colours and as much sugar as possible, as those things definitely will contribute to hyper, aggressive behaviour even if he doesn't have an allergy.

There maybe some health issues that need to be addressed if he is hungry all the time, so it could be worth getting a medical assessment. He may need more calories than he has been getting, so do make sure you have healthy foods available that he is able to have if he is hungry, but limit the junk food to just special occasions.

Assuming no allergies, things like yoghurt, fruit, cheese, peanut butter on crackers, carrots or cucumber dipped in humus can be left available for him so if he really is hungry he has healthy options. If the tantrums are around wanting junk food, then he is not really hungry.

Part Two Follows . . . .

Angry Child - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

If there is an emotional component that food = love, and since his behaviour is also pointing to needing attention, then your challenge is to increase the amount of positive attention he gets. It is very hard to feel loving and warm towards a child that has punched you, or is screaming at you. He has learned that throwing a tantrum gets him attention, but it is totally the wrong kind of attention.

Reinforce ANY Good Behaviour

You want to switch the focus to looking for his good behaviour and rewarding that with praise and a hug. Make it a goal every day, to find something, no matter how small, that he does that is positive. Even if it is something you expect he should do anyway - like get dressed!

The other important thing is, increase the amount of fun you have with him. Whether it is playing a board game with him, reading a story, going to the park or kicking a ball around the back yard.

Kids need lots of positive attention to feel loved and appreciated. This angry child of yours is causing havoc, and is attracting all kinds of negative programming. He will be building up a belief that he is unlovable, that the world sucks, he will stop caring about anything, and his self esteem will be very low.

You didn't say anything about how he is at school, or if this is just an issue at home. For him to be that aggressive to you at home, I would be surprised if he is not using violence and aggression at school to get what he wants too.

Monitor And Limit
Agressive Input Such As TV

You also need to ask yourself if he is seeing this kind of behaviour in others as a way to solve problems. Kids who see lots of violent TV programes or computer games, who see Mum and Dad shout and yell, and maybe even hit to get their own way, are simply acting out what they have learned. You don't get peaceful kids in a household with a lot of violence. We can't expect our kids to behave in ways we don't.

I imagine you are feeling exhausted coping with an out of control child, plus a husband who is also frustrated, and by the sound of it the two of you are not working as a team with this child. Is your husband the father of your son? It kind of sounded like it was more up to you to deal with the issues, and your father clearly plays an important role with your lad.

If this behaviour is out of character, and has come on fairly recently - has something happened? Has there been any major events in your family over the last six months or so? Kids behaviour is a barometer in the family, and often if something major has happened that has not been dealt with, the child will act out the stress of the family.

Part Three Follows . . . .

Angry Child - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

So, what else can you do? Firstly as I mentioned check out medical factors, as they are sometimes easier to deal with.

If there are other factors involved that you know are contributing, then some counseling would be a good idea. You and your husband need to be supporting each other, particularly when you have the stress of an angry, out of control child. So getting counseling together, or maybe family counseling would be a good idea.

Recommended Program

I have been evaluating a program by Dr Andrew Gibson, who specializes in working with angry children or teenagers. His program to help parents who are parenting difficult children get control back in the family is a very comprehensive one.

It comes in the form of a Book - Got An Angry Kid? Parenting Spike: A Seriously Difficult Child
The book starts by outlining the characteristics of the child, Spike and his behavior and then moves into a 28 step parenting training program called P.A.C.T (Parenting Angry Children & Teens).

Part Four Follows

Angry Child - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

I would highly recommend you get the book but it will require some commitment on your part to work with the program.

We have other pages on the site with help for parents with
defiant or challenging children

Good Luck Zoe - you definitely need some help and support to turn this around. Your son needs you to bring some peace back into the family and take control again. Learning to have control without yelling and threatening is difficult. But you both can learn ways of relating that will build a positive loving relationship, and instead of an abusive child, you will end up with a happy boy.

All the best,
Annie Desantis

Stick to IT!
by: Anonymous

My child now 33-YEARS old, and from the stage of infancy, colic and beyond--did not agree with one single thing I suggested from clothing to hair, meal time decorum etc. Hid dirty laundry, kept room a wreck, sullen, angry, disagreeable... There were no allergies, no drugs or alcohol.

I found some things that helped along the way. I refused to placate, used calm and quiet reserve, did not employ restraint.

Suggest looking for children's books about anger, fear, and try to engage the child in describing feelings--out of control doesn't feel good for them either. Observe time of day, fatigue level, any other outside or family influences that may be negative.

Hang in there, doing everything but losing yourself...That same child is perfection!

Thanks For Your Wise Comments
by: Annie Desantis

Wonderful to hear from a parent who has got through the other side of raising a challenging child.

Thank you for your ideas and thoughts, and yes, despite our struggles with a child that seems to be out of control - they are still a perfect little being, and it is scary being so overwhelmed with feelings.

Also, your words about maintaining your own sense of self, and taking care of yourself as a Mom, are so important.

Thank you,
Annie D

Teen Rager
by: Lynnette

I too have an angry child, but this one is now 14. She was the sweetest toddler, happy as, so it's not her nature, but oh my! As a 10-12yo, she became adept at lying and stealing from me, she has always had many friends, but only a few deep friendships, and these seem to change quite regularly too.

At home, hubby and I have been happily married 23years, although he does suffer anxiety related depressive episodes, and I know that anxiety is an underlying factor in many of our issues.

But why can't we have a conversation without a fight? Why does she leave frazzled tempers and physical mess everywhere she has been. Why is she so secretive, and why does she lie, and yet expect trust from us?

Being middle class, getting help here in NZ is like pulling teeth. ANY advice here is appreciated

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