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A Child’s School Frustrations Could Spell Bigger Problems

Learn to recognize signs of anger and how to intervene with help.

Key points

  • There are 10 traits of the angry child. Three, especially, can affect your child's school year and home life.
  • Maintaining good communication with an irritable child can mean the difference between ignoring a problem and intervening with help.
  • Angry children, and adults, do not exhibit their best thinking; thus, they often make matters worse.

Angry children reveal themselves in 10 common traits, several of which may deserve a careful look to investigate what’s really going on.

In The Angry Child: Regaining Control When Your Child Is Out of Control, 10 traits describe angry, irritable behavior. Here, I’ll highlight a few that impact the school year.

Anger Getting in the Way of Logic

When a child frequently misunderstands problems he faces and resists assistance, he gets stuck in emotional reasoning or feel-think. Logic is inaccessible at this point. Unable to think things through often with an unwillingness to talk, this child runs with emotions as if they are facts. Sadly, when communication shuts down, there goes the opportunity to learn from mistakes. Thus, angry children and teens often cannot analyze problems.

Helpful interventions: Show that talking about problems opens doors to solutions. Use analogies that speak to a child’s interests—a favorite sport or hobby—so that she pays attention and engages. Teachers can do this in lessons, and parents can do this when helping with homework or in those “teachable moments” in which discipline serves to educate about correct behavior, not merely point out improper action.

If a child changes history to fit a conclusion already formed in his mind, gently call out the circular thinking or avoidance, especially of responsibility. Teach that owning up to one’s faults, admitting mistakes, and cleaning up messes (literal and figurative) shows great character.

Blaming Others

This leads to another anger trait, the tendency to blame others. “He picked on me first"; “It’s not my fault the teacher didn’t tell us”; or “The media center doesn’t have any good books so I’m not reading tonight.” These all sound like school-kid excuses.

If indeed a child is the victim of bullying, her anger may be righteous, but it’s never an excuse to replicate mean behavior. Yet, frustration may lead to anger that seeps out in sarcasm, criticism, disrespectful tone, or passive–aggressive actions that say more than any words ever could.

Helpful interventions: Teach the difference between excuses (poor choice) and explanations using what we call I-messages (good communication). Blame often surfaces whereby an angry child (or adult, for that matter) attacks, which drives others away, such that he feels better, then concludes that the one pushed aside was indeed the source of misery. Sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy? Indeed.

The blame often shifts to the very people who could help. Steer that anger around to eliminate blame. Calmly correct faulty thinking (personalizing, generalizing, feel-think, and more). Say something like, “Well, even if it is another kid’s fault, how can we help you to better handle this situation in the future?”

If a teen insists a teacher is unfair, role-play appropriate assertiveness with soft start-ups and I- messages so that she becomes comfortable standing up for herself and broaching awkward topics.

Going on the Offensive

Blame dovetails with another anger trait—attacking people rather than solving problems.

Going on the offensive, which gives oxygen to one’s irritability, is often easier than rolling up one’s sleeves to work out a rift or issue. Aggressive acts fuel one’s insecurity, draw attention, keep assistance and helpers at bay, and falsely empower the aggressor, who believes he is right. We see this when angry individuals cast innocent others as their story’s villain.

“Remember, angry children don’t excel at reasoning, and they believe that if they are angry, they must be right. It’s an ‘I may not win but at least you won’t either’ attitude,” writes Dr. Tim Murphy in The Angry Child.

Attack may also be part of an angry person’s manipulation. Kids, in particular, are savvy enough to know that if they accuse a teacher or principal of a racial slur or inappropriate behavior, the matter escalates. It could be passive–aggressive payback.

Helpful interventions: Teach that all stories do not have villains. Everyone has responsibility for his/her own actions. Owning up to mistakes or missteps shows strength of character. Myriad solutions also open doors and provide options.

Adults are powerful models. If you don’t wish to be manipulated by your teen, then don’t inadvertently maneuver this way yourself. Troubled families in which mom/dad criticize, use contempt, become defensive, and stonewall set the stage.

It’s rampant in divorce scenarios, where, sadly, parents go the adversarial route in which the only ones who win are the lawyers and their bank accounts (or attempts at becoming partner in a firm). Alternative dispute resolution (a.k.a. collaborative divorce or mediation) avoids this.

Don’t accuse others but own up to your role in squabbles. Step through a variety of solutions, working with—not at or against—people, with whom you interact. Model personal time outs, and that you can agree to disagree but still be kind. Brainstorm, think creatively outside the box, and role-play when you’re really stuck. This all empowers your child to confront conflict and work through issues, thereby quieting the impulse to attack.

Irritable, angry children grow into irascible, ill-tempered adults. Counseling and therapy, and addressing the 10 traits between those sessions, can lead to happiness as opposed to misery.

Copyright © 2022 by Loriann Oberlin, MS

References

Murphy, T and Oberlin, L. The Angry Child: Regaining Control When Your Child Is Out of Control (New York: Hachette/DaCapo, 2016); https://tinyurl.com/Angry-Child-BN-Paperback and https://tinyurl.com/Angry-Child-Kindle

Murphy, T and Oberlin, L. Overcoming Passive-Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness (New York: Hachette/DaCapo, 2016); https://tinyurl.com/OPA-Barnes-Noble and https://tinyurl.com/OPA-Kindle

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