Press Release – Violent Kids
(Comment related to the scissor attack in South Auckland)
John Cowan from The Parenting Place
Another jolting story in the news this week: a child left critically ill after an attack by another child with scissors. Fortunately, stabbing by students is rare but rage is not. The coaches at The Parenting Place increasingly see parents struggling with children who cannot handle their anger. Without making any assumptions about this most recent incident, I’d like to comment about what is behind the type of rage that leads to violence.
It is normal for young children to express their anger actively and unpleasantly, but is also normal for them to get better and better at handling it. As parents, as well as nudging them towards better ways of expressing their anger there are things we can do that we might not even think of as ‘anger management’. One is, disappoint your kids. Say ‘No’ to them. Make them wait for things. Require them to sit still. Don’t give them everything they want. Honestly, giving a child everything they want, when they want it, is setting your child up for a lot of anger later in life. In the real world they will encounter frustrations and they need to know how to handle that. My guess is that many parents feel guilty because of their busyness and lack of involvement and so seek to compensate with indulgence and removing any disappointment from their kids’ lives. Believe this: an indulged child is as miserable as a deprived child, and probably an angrier one as well. It is more loving to give them limits.
When parents play-fight with kids it probably helps them handle their anger, even though it may seem counter-intuitive. Rough-housing is great fun – a very natural bonding activity – but it also helps to ‘train the aggro’ out of kids. When you play fight, occasionally a finger will be bent too far or someone will fall off a bed and get hurt, and their anger will flair. But you are right there coaching them: “Hey, I see that hurt, but don’t hit. Give it a shake until it stops hurting and then we’ll have Round Two, okay?” You need to take this advice with a bit of mature wisdom – we are talking reasonably gentle horseplay. I think the testosterone-laced nature of Dads catches onto this more readily, though, of course, plenty of Mums play-fight as well.
What kids see, kids do. Witnessing violence between parents or subjecting children to violence hugely increases the risk of a child becoming violent as well. Some kids soak in a family culture where problems are sorted with yelling and aggression – kids seldom rise higher than their parents. In some studies, media violence is linked to childhood violence, particularly in kids who are already struggling with impulse control. It makes sense to monitor their TV and gaming diet.
Your kids need to know that they can always control their anger; that even though they feel red-rage burning in their blood, they can always control their fists. And that they will be held accountable for their actions. Get onto this when they are little: the hormones are coming, ready or not. It is so much better to help your kids get a grip on anger before adolescence, when every emotion is amplified. Bigger anger plus bigger bodies can turn playground scraps into life threatening violence.