Those of us who have children who are irritable and easily angered probably wonder why they are so short-tempered, why they snap back for everything we say and just WHY they are so aggressive. Most of the reasons we manage to think about center around stubbornness, immaturity, peer pressure, deriving pleasure out of rebellion and an irresponsible approach to life. Naturally, our approach towards correcting such behaviors stem from these reasons. We chide our children, give them repeated instructions and make repeated attempts to get them to obey and conform. However, if you have noticed, these may not have worked. You may see that your child still continues to defy and disobey. In fact, most of you may notice that the more you try to correct your child, the more defiant and oppositional your child becomes. Their behavior soon leaves you thinking they don’t care for what you say. This is a distressing thought and a vicious cycle that leaves us emotionally exhausted, angry and worried about just how your child will manage in the outside world. Moreover, it also leaves you wondering whether you need to do something more to change his/her temperament for the better. It is this I want to address in this write-up. Probably, it is not the strategies but our mindset that needs to change. We are probably missing out on understanding our aggressive child completely.
What I mean to say here is, we see the boisterous and oppositional side of our children and often miss seeing the emotional turmoil the child himself is undergoing. Here is an attempt to help you recognize this. Let’s think of it like this – When would somebody rely on defiance and rebelliousness as a way of life? Think hard. Children are most probably aware that they are souring their relationship with you through their behavior. Why still do they choose aggression as a way of responding day in and day out?? I attempt to answer these questions below :-
– Aggressive children are Hurt Within–
Aggressive children nurse a gamut of hurt behind the facade of anger and insensitivity. This is one emotion I am clearly able to perceive in all such children in therapy. Your child is most probably holding on to past negative experiences deep down. Often, this isn’t caused by one single event but a pattern of events. For example, ‘I was repeatedly teased by my friends because I couldn’t play well. When I’d return home, my mother often told me my friends were right and that I am a failure at sports’, ‘My parents never gave me time and attention when I was younger. While all other children were accompanied by parents to school, I was always sent alone. Not only that, my father always brushed me aside when I’d try to share my experiences at school. Even if he was watching television, he wouldn’t listen.’
Think of these instances from a child’s perspective. While we never intend to cause our children emotional hurt, we are not infallible. The mother above was probably frustrated at her child being teased everyday when she made that statement. The father probably thought that it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t listen to his child because he could always approach his mother. While both parents didn’t mean to hurt their children, the children nevertheless were hurt. A repetitive pattern of similar occurrences cements the feeling of hurt in the child, fueling anger that ultimately erupts as defiance.
– A Feeling of Powerlessness –
Aggressive children hold a belief that they wouldn’t get what they want if they didn’t aggress. ‘My parents won’t listen to me if I tell them politely. I need to put my foot down and be rude. Only then do they give in.’ Let’s take a minute to understand what this means. The child feels polite requests do not bring success. ‘I need to aggress to assert my importance…therefore I am not important as I am.’ This is in fact low self-esteem. It is a feeling of powerlessness. The child feels like he cannot influence his environment as he is. He needs to be defiant and offensive if he is to influence people around him. This notion is extremely discomforting to the child, again causing hurt, once again fuelling anger and leading to aggression.
– ‘I am a Victim’ –
The feelings and beliefs described above make one feel like a ‘victim’, a person who is hurt by close ones, who is powerless and unimportant. Strange as it sounds, this is what goes on in the child’s mind. It is his reality. With every argument he has with you, the unpleasantness seeps deeper and he feels more victimized. Just as a victim is allowed to defend, the child allows himself to aggress. Over a period of time, he believes that his parents consider him to be a rebel anyway so it doesn’t matter if he rebels some more.’
WHAT THEN, HAVE WE TO LEARN FROM THIS?
We need to introspect in order to check our behaviors. Disciplining and firmness is essential for good upbringing, but so is love and gentleness, even if the child is aggressive. I understand this is a difficult thing to do. Yet, one must try. Bear in mind that your angry and seemingly insensitive child is actually very hurt from within. A change in perspective works wonders for a change in behavior. Perceiving his/her distress and emotional turmoil will automatically generate compassion in you for him/her. It will bring about a curiosity in you to understand his emotions, opening up communication channels. Another word of caution here – your child may not open up to you the very first time you attempt to talk to him. Nevertheless, keep trying. None of us resist a caring person for too long. Once your child perceives that you genuinely want to know about his feelings, he will surely talk to you. You can then nurture your relationship with your child by being his emotional support system in addition to being his guide and guardian.
Another related article is preserving the parent-child relationship
Always remember, understanding human emotion is often difficult. Emotions are often in layers, with one hiding the other. It isn’t ‘your fault’ that you didn’t sense it because doing so is genuinely difficult. So go ahead to give it a try now because It’s never too late to bring about positive change.
Post Contributed by: Malini Krishnan
Malini is a Clinical Psychologist and she works with children, adolescents as well as with adults at Inner Space.