As complex and daunting as aggressive behaviour can appear, the way to respond can be simple and involves answering 3 questions:
1. What emotions am I (as the parent or carer) feeling right now?
If we are not emotionally regulated when we respond to a child, there is a high likelihood that this will only perpetuate the situation. The child’s need remains unmet and they now also have additional stress. As the saying goes (and neuroscience attests to), ‘when we are at our angriest… we are at our stupidest’.
Speaking of, when children are highly emotionally dysregulated they don’t have access to their pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for problem-solving, reasoning and perspective taking. So, asking them to ‘make a good choice’ at the height of aggressive behaviour probably isn’t going to work.
We should try and emulate what we can see a duck in a pond look like; on the surface it is calm and graceful, underneath is a little more frantic but that is hidden from view.
2. How are environmental factors influencing the situation?
Many times, behaviours are influenced by those observing it. Removing other children or adults can be the catalyst for de-escalation. Similarly, removing yourself partially or fully as a responder (when safe to do so) can also be what is required for de-escalation to occur.
3. What does my child feel, need or want?
Behaviour is almost always a form of communication that expresses a need. Identifying and reflecting back your child’s need or feeling goes halfway to solving the problem. There is a difference between caving into unrealistic demands and simply demonstrating to your child that you can hear and understand their frustration.
Children may need up to a few hours to recover and return to a baseline state. This is the time to have that conversation about what they can do to get their needs met next time in a more adaptive way.
If you are seeking parenting support or support for your child, please contact the clinic to book an appointment with one of our psychologists.
Megan Mellington, Psychologist
As a parent, we will undoubtedly encounter moments of frustration towards our children. It could be awoken by the simplest of circumstances, such as needing to repeat ourselves like a broken record, intervening with siblings squabbling over a toy, or because we are stressed by other things and our tolerance for managing challenging behaviours is limited.
However, as many of you might already have experienced, when we respond with anger this often only escalates the situation with our child, and they too may then respond in a similar manner. While many of us have regrettably resorted to shouting, questioning or punishments out of anger, what is important to remember, first of all, is that you are human.
Anger is a normal part of the spectrum of human emotions. Anger isn’t bad, it reminds us that we are passionate about something like perhaps wishing to raise respectful, emotionally regulated and empathic little humans. So when less than desirable behaviours are observed in our children, we want to help them develop ways to self-manage, through teaching and implementing boundaries.
Sometimes though, when we have been teaching and redirecting our children all day, our waning tolerance for their tantrums or perceived “defiance” can move us to anger. This article aims to outline some tips about how to tame our own “angries” so that you can engage with your children in a mindful and empathic way.
I've previously shared Dr Dan Siegal's video explanation of what happens in the brain when we get angry and how the thinking part gets shut down. So how do we get our “thinking brain” back online so that we can respond in a more helpful way for our children? The following are several brief tips I often use in parent consultations to support this process:
We can’t always be an emotionally regulated parent, and we shouldn’t expect this of ourselves. Even if we do take our anger out on our children, there are many things we can do to minimise the likelihood of this happening in future. If we can tame our “angries” by recognising our emotional state, taking a pause before responding, and regulating ourselves before attempting to regulate our child, we are modelling adaptive and healthy ways of managing anger.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Dan Siegal talks about the parts of the brain involved in emotion regulation. He also coined the term, “flipping your lid” as a metaphor for our experience of being in the throes of anger, and what happens in our brain when anger takes hold. This Hand Model of the Brain clip demonstrates this idea beautifully.
As Dan Siegal outlines, there are two main parts of the brain involved in anger; the pre frontal cortex or “thinking brain”, and the amygdala or “alarm system”. In my next post, read how we get our “thinking brain” back online so that we can respond in a more helpful way for our children.