One of my favorite kids, Sam, came in to see me this week.
Nearly six and going into first grade in the fall, I’ve been tracking Sam since he was three. Sam’s had issues with “behavioral self-regulation,” as the mental health professionals might say. (In other words, he can’t keep his hands to himself.)
We chat about camp, which just started. I ask him if him about his counselors. He tells me that they are all boys except that one of them is a “girl who is in our bunk because of my anger issues.” (Apparently, Sam has a counselor who is primarily assigned to keep an eye on him.)
When he tells me that, I raise an inquisitive eyebrow and ask him, “Oh, yeah. What are your anger issues?”
Shooting me a sly smile, he doesn’t have much of a response and just shrugs. I encourage him to draw me his anger issues. While Sam loves drawing, there’s not much content, maybe a superhero drawing or something. I compliment him on his drawing. He then tells me he’d like to be an architect one day.
I don’t know if Sam has anger issues. I know he has loving parents and pretty good circumstances all around.
“Anger issues” are demanding child behavior
Look, I’m not dismissing that the idea that young kids can’t have “anger issues,” but there is a considerable percentage of kids like Sam who may not have anger issues, although it may look like they do in the way they behave and interact.
My interpretation of Sam’s “anger issues” is pretty simple – he’s angry when he doesn’t get what he wants (when he wants). In other words, he finds “no” to be something he has trouble handling. This can occur with other kids, his parents or teachers.
Sadly, so many of kids like Sam are put on medication pretty quickly without taking the time to understand them.
So many of the Sams of the world are quickly “diagnosed” as ADHD and really, who is going to be able to challenge that. The doctor’s word rules.
How to help children with anger issues
As we continue chatting, Sam tells me he calls his mother “stupid” sometimes. He knows it’s wrong, but he gets mad at her when she doesn’t indulge his every whim. (Of course he doesn’t tell me that, but that is what I piece together.)
I try and bring a dose of reality to his head. Making it clear that “he can’t always get what he wants.”
Sam listens (sort of).
I bring his mom in to join the chat.
It’s my theory that his mom needs to toughen her reserves, so she doesn’t give in to his “anger issues” (i.e., his demands). He can have his moody reactions when he isn’t happy with what is happening at the moment, but he can’t lord over everyone as he tries to do. She needs to say something to him like, “Sam you can be angry, but not insulting or obnoxious. Until you pull it together, I don’t want to talk to you. Let me know when you’re in a better mood.”
Don’t be so ready to assume that your kid has “anger issues” or is ADHD when he’s struggling coping with the “No word.” Simpler explanations are often the best route for understanding your kid.
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Good article, good advice.
Thanks, Cindy. Much appreciated.
Great advice, Dr. Selznick! I always enjoy your posts. Best, Bonnie
Great read!! I started reading this awhile ago and got interrupted. Took me awhile to find again, but this rings really true with my oldest. Anytime she doesn’t want to hear something she lashes out, and gets furious. She just cannot handle not hearing or getting her way. This is just not life. Kids really need to learn to accept and deal with life that isn’t going their way.
Thanks, Sue. Glad it struck a chord with you. Hope all is well. Stay in touch.