Why is my child so angry? The lockdown effect
Are you at home in lockdown and wondering how on earth other families you know on social media are spending their days blissfully baking cakes, colouring rainbows and smiling in the sunshine?. Well the chances are they aren’t ….. and if you too are wondering about this then you aren’t alone! Sometimes it helps to remind ourselves that it takes a second to take a picture, literally a seconds snapshot in time cannot sum up a families lockdown life.
Lockdown with a family, as we have all probably learnt by now at least once (or a hundred times), is no bed of roses. There are some silver linings, yes, but being at home with the family a lot more than usual with very little alone time can become a pressure cooker even in the happiest families.
Factors that lockdown has brought for our children could be loss of school routine, missing friendships, boredom or confusion, just to name a few. These can have a significant effect on your child’s emotions and as a result, the family balance.
Why are they angry?
So how come a child who is normally fairly calm is now flying off the handle because you didn’t buy their preferred cereal?
It may be that your child is feeling insecure and worried about the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in.
Children have less experience and therefore less personal resources to call on in the face of everyday worries. So it makes sense that amidst a global pandemic that even their parents don’t have all the answers to, it’s easy for them to feel worried, powerless and frustrated.
This is where the anger can stem from. As you can see from the anger iceberg (right), anger can cover a myriad of emotions beneath.
How do I know if it’s anxiety related anger or just bad behaviour?
It can sometimes be difficult to establish how your child is feeling when they themselves do not understand. For younger children who cannot articulate their worries, it means that parents need to read between the lines to identify when their little ones are anxious. Here are some age-related guidelines which may help you to consider your child’s emotional state;
- Under three’s; Very young children may be more easily distressed by minor things, they may be insecure and cry for you when you leave the room or want to be comforted more by you.
- Ages four to seven; At this stage upset children may start to show younger behaviours or appear to take backward steps in their development. For example, a toilet-trained child may start to have accidents again, want to sleep in your bed with you or revert to screaming where they normally try to articulate themselves.
- Ages eight to eleven; Signs of anxiety can be found in a difficulty concentrating, remembering or focusing on tasks that they normally would. Children this age will often show anger to mask feelings of sadness.
- Tweens and Teenagers; Children of pre-teen or teenage years may show their anxiety by withdrawing from the family, perhaps spending more time in their room than normal and not engaging in family activities. They may react dramatically to minor things and feel that small matters are a ‘big deal’. They may project their feelings onto a particular issue and channel it disproportionately in one direction.
How to respond effectively
- Keep calm. This can be very challenging especially if you feel stressed or less than resilient. However, adding more anger into a fraught situation can be like pouring petrol on a fire. If you feel unable to keep calm, walk away and take a break and broach it with them afterwards.
- Talk; Speak to your child and let them know you can see that they aren’t their usual selves. Just getting this out in the open, without having all the answers, may help your child to feel less alone with their feelings and a little lighter.
- Business as usual; Maintain and reinforce the usual household rules. Angry children and teens can feel scared and insecure underneath. Changing the normal rules will only add to their unstable feelings.
- Patterns; Help your child to see when they get angry and what their triggers are “Hey, I’ve noticed when you play computer games for too long you seem angry afterwards. Do you notice that?” Even if your child says you are wrong, they may consider it next time and begin to see a pattern for themselves.
- Teach. Introduce your child to some techniques to handle their anger differently; such as a reduction of activities which increase frustration levels, breathing techniques, drawing, exercise or even punching a pillow.
- Be patient. If they refuse to talk to you then perhaps they are not ready. Let them know you are there when they want to talk. Sometimes just validating that you see them having hard time can work wonders.
What else can help?
Children (and most adults) feel safe when they have stability and routine, so the good news is that there are things we as parents can do at home to try and bring some calm to family life. Structure and routines can help whilst still enjoying the freedom that not being at school can bring. Consider these ideas;
- Write the day/week plan on a whiteboard that your child/children can see
- Have allocated times for meals and snacks
- Have a day of the week for a lockdown tradition; baking, movie night or family games.
- Bedtime routines; keep these running even though there are no school nights
- Take a daily walk or bike ride together
What about you?
Facing an angry child can be challenging on any day of the week. But if you are feeling stressed, worried or tired and you are battling to deal with your child in a way that doesn’t escalate matters, it can be nothing short of exhausting.
It may feel very difficult to consider yourself right now. Some people feel selfish for thinking about their needs when there is a crisis going on in the outside world. However, self-care is more important now than ever. We are all in unchartered territory here and it is really important to show ourselves some compassion. This just means showing yourself the same kindness you would offer to others.
- Know and accept your struggle. This is as simple as “This is a hard time for me” – trust me, it feels much better than self-judgemental thoughts like “I should be coping with this better” which can only pull your morale down.
- Find ways to remind yourself that you are not alone; call friends and family, seek online support or find your local community social media groups.
- Acknowledge your feelings; you cannot run from them and be self-compassionate at the same time. Know your feelings, label them and remember they do not define who you are.
Further information about childhood anger;
Support for parents;
Rebecca holds a degree in Counselling and a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about raising the profile of emotional wellbeing issues and making mental health information and support more accessible to everyone.