“I don’t know how you do it.” <- A phrase I often hear after responding to a call to help an angry child who is throwing desks across the room or displaying some other type of aggressive behavior.
The answer is simple: It’s not personal.
As long as care is taken to not aggravate their emotional response (i.e. confrontation, condescending attitude, sarcasm, etc.), I know that students are not mad at me. I am only seeing their reaction to something else they are experiencing. So what’s causing them to be angry?
While some misbehavior may be due to negative attention seeking, full-blown fits of rage are not due to personality clashes nor are they a result of boredom. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, anger is a secondary emotion.
There are a few reasons why anger is used as a secondary emotion.
- Anger is an acceptable emotion in American culture. Aggression and violence are everywhere: television, music, toys, and of course video games.
- More importantly, anger can be used as a shield to protect us from emotional distress, due to the endorphins released from our nervous system and the physical/emotional distance it puts between us and others.
According to behavior modification therapy, behavior can be altered if we change the antecedent (what comes before the behavior) or the consequence (what happens immediately after the behavior). Since anger is a result of primary emotions we need to address the antecedent or cause of that emotion.
I’ve created the following list of possible areas to explore when helping an angry child:
1. Parents arguing
2. Best friend moving
3. No one to play with
6. Change is schools
7. Parent deployment
8. Parent works long hours
9. Worry about having enough to eat
10. Worry about having housing/heat/water
11. Sick parent or family member
12. Personal illness
13. Fear of being the victim of physical/emotional/sexual abuse
14. Fear of a family member being the victim of physical/emotional/sexual abuse
15. Loved one performing a dangerous job (military, police, firefighter, etc.)
16. Worry about not having enough money to pay bills or participate in activities
17. Low academic performance
18. Underdeveloped social skills
19. Physical development/ability
20. Speech impairment
21. Comparison to high-achieving siblings
22. Sense of lack of control
23. Sexual abuse victimization
24. Let someone down
25. Feelings of responsibility for a divorce
26. Feelings of responsibility for a death
27. Hurt someone (emotionally or physically)
28. Failure to follow directions
29. Didn’t get invited to a party
30. Didn’t get chosen for a group activity
31. Didn’t make the team
32. Didn’t win the game
33. Poor grades
34. Parent breaks a promise
35. Family plans change
36. Financial limitations
Worry (preoccupation of thoughts):
37. Basic needs (food, shelter, health, etc)
38. Family substance use
39. Family mental health
40. Incarceration/legal matters (self or family)
44. Social – in front of peer group
46. Feeling “stupid”
47. Feeling “worthless”
48. Awkwardness in social situations/low social skills
49. Verbal gaffe
50. Friendships – friends of friends
53. Parents’ time/attention
54. Significant other
56. Social status
58. Preferred sibling
59. Break-up of a friendship
60. Boyfriend/Girlfriend break-up
62. Peer betrayal
63. Family betrayal
65. Poor boundaries
66. Social pressure
67. Personal expectations
68. School performance
69. Biological – anxiety disorders
70. Low academic ability
71. Inability to meet the expectations of others
72. Abuse (emotional/physical/sexual)
73. Substance abuse (self or family)
74. Previous disciplinary actions
75. Inability to control behavior
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