I’ve struggled the past year with a particular aspect of parenting one of my children. I haven’t ever written about it because I’m not sure I have any solutions and there’s a degree of shame parents experience with the hard issues.
Then, over the past weeks, I have encountered mom after mom who is experiencing the same struggle.
It never fails to surprise me because I never read about it. No one ever really talks about it. But because I’ve begun to open up about my struggles, out of desperation maybe more than anything, I begin to hear the exact same story repeated back to me.
The child’s age and gender varies. The stories come from moms parenting boys and girls alike. The children’s ages range from three on into the teen years. Which makes this a struggle some moms have just begun to get a handle on and some moms have spent years honing their responses.
This is the story about the worry and confusion and guilt and frustration when trying to parent an angry kid.
These stories, including my own, are not about a child with a temper. We’ve seen that. We know the solution there. The truth is, I was a nanny and babysitter and church nursery provider for years and never saw it. I now realize those kids may have had the same struggle as my baby does, but you don’t often see it in public. At least, in our case, you rarely see it in public. We’ve had a couple of very explosive experiences, once with our pediatrician, but apart from that they happen at home.
All the moms I talk to know it happens at home “because they feel most comfortable with you,” as well as all those other things people say to make you feel encouraged about the hurricane that hits, but it’s not helpful.
For a while, we were convinced it was the work of asthma medicine causing our son’s outbreaks, and we had the studies to back it up. After months of natural allergy treatments, we were able to back him off all asthma medicine (his is ultimately a minor case), and he hasn’t had any asthma treatments for over a year. There was a pause, but still the explosions come.
For the moms who have multiple children, and most of the moms I’ve talked to do have other children without this same issue, the situation can wreck an evening at home trying to parent all the children and get things accomplished.
There is no ideal reaction when the meltdown occurs. Reason never works. Anger in response doesn’t work and, if anything, it fuels the reaction to greater heights. Removal of the child during an episode is challenging, because you can never get him to stay where you want him, and trying to move him, when the anger fuels an incredible strength, can be nearly impossible.
The other children lose the attention they were receiving from their parents. Often everyone loses a privilege or experience because you can’t reward the angry child.
What have other moms done? There have been assorted therapy sessions which I wish moms would talk about more because sharing could help tremendously, but it still seems to be the dirty little secret of parenting. Like it’s somehow admitting failure. I’ve heard about family sessions and individual sessions and play therapy and a number of options. We tried therapy a couple of times, but with other children involved in the session the behavior didn’t come out (and it’s an expensive option when you’re not getting closer to a solution). Some moms do try to remove the child to their room, and have had more success, and keep them away from the rest of the family so the anger outbreak is less disruptive. Those moms recommend talking about what happens in the child’s head when the child is calm but not to try reasoning when the episode is happening.
From my experience, and talking with other moms, we generally cannot find a consistent trigger. One day it could be complimenting another child leads to a complete disruption while another day it could be exhaustion and another it could be losing a privilege because of an initial act of disobedience.
For me, it is not a daily experience and therefore even hard to predict. Most moms seem to have the experience I do with their angry child also being incredibly loving, giving, sensitive, and prone to heartbreak. These are kids whose nerves are right there on the surface. We mommas are in love with these precious ones. We are also at a loss for how to keep the anger from swallowing up our family on the hard days.
This week is about the hard stories. The ones I’m not particularly happy to share. But if we don’t start talking about the hard stories, how we will find our way to the other side?