Wednesday, October 5, 2011
This is the second part of three articles.
There is no single explanation why some students feel habitual and recurrent anger, exhibiting more aggressive behaviors than other students show. Some of it might depend on the child’s earlier experiences in life. Students who show a tendency to angry and aggressive behaviors in school seem to be responding to a worldview, their idea of how the world functions, that validates the belief that they are living in a hostile and negative world. If the child has had negative experiences earlier in life, experiences that are now part of the child’s memories, a particular incident may trigger anger associated with the student’s memories and thoughts. For example, if another child accidentally steps on the child, the troubled and anger-prone child will be inclined to perceive the intrusion as a hostile and intentional act because this interpretation matches and validates his or her worldview. Anger becomes an automatic response to everyday events, even when the environmental cues are not there, or even when the environmental cues are contradicting the child’s interpretation of the event. This habitual response can be reinforced by others, including parents, teachers, and peers if they have become used to it, and are expecting angry and hostile reactions from the child all the time. Every time the child’s angry feelings create a counter-reaction from others, this counter-reaction reinforces the child’s negative worldview, helping the child feel in control of the situation, especially when he or she gets what the anger was all about in the first place. The angry feeling by itself functions as a short-term reinforcement for the child, and once anger and aggressive behaviors are recorded in the child’s mind as a way to control, manipulate, and dominate others and their environment, the anger-prone child will use angry feelings and aggressive behaviors more easily in the future.
Other contributing factors can help in maintaining an anger habit. Among the most common in children, we can mention:
· Frustration. Anger is almost always based on frustration. When feeling overwhelmed, embarrassed, or ignored anger seems to be the child’s attempt to regain control. Anger-prone students show low frustration tolerance, going “on the offensive” to deal with situations that other children just put up with.
· Fear. Anger can be based on fear, from fear of losing a privilege to fear of failure in a task or skill, anger is usually about the fear of losing something that feels important to the child. As I said, anger-prone children seem to be always on the offensive; they feel uneasy and sometimes overwhelmed with situations that put them at risk of losing what they value, and they try to hide this apprehension from others by being the ones who attack first.
· Shame. Anger can spring from the child’s feelings that he has to fight all the time to preserve his dignity and sense of self-worth.
· Lack of Assertiveness. When the child lacks the ability of assertively speaking for his rights, and does not know how to negotiate to get what he wants, the child may find himself exploding instead.
Certain pre-conditions may also influence angry feelings and aggressive behaviors in children, among them
· society’s attitude towards aggression and violence (a reaction to watching violent movies, television, and/or sports)
· need for attention
· angry and aggressive interactions with a parent or a caretaker
· a cover-up for feelings of failure
· group pressure
· a cover-up for sadness and depression
· using drugs
· maintaining group status
· to avoid closeness
· revenge or “getting even”
What the child is thinking and how she is feeling at the moment of the event is instrumental in creating anger. If at the moment of the event the child is relaxed and in a positive state, she is less inclined to react angrily to the event. If, on the other hand, the child is already on an aversive or pre-anger state, she will be more susceptible to an angry reaction.
For more on the topic of anger in children…
Understanding the Anger-Prone Student Part One: Models of Anger
Handling Angry Students: Psycho-Educational Strategies that Work
Child Guidance Skills for Teachers: Relaxation Techniques for Angry and Troubled Students
Coping Strategies for Students with Anger Problems
Anger Management for Children: Using Self-Talking to Defuse Angry Feelings
The Therapeutic Classroom: Guided Imagery and Visualizations for Students with Anger Problems
In addition, don’t miss…
What are Coping Skills? Part Two: Social Skills Training and Assertiveness