Anger is often evidence of frustration in “the system” – what Dr Gordon Neufeld refers to as ‘The Frustration Roundabout.’

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When a child encounters an incident they find frustrating, the first thing that occurs to their brain to do is to try and change the situation.

If you have more than one child you’ve probably noticed that when confronted with limits and  restrictions, not all children react in the same way. Some children move to tears quite quickly whereas others seem to resist feeling their sadness and their frustration erupts in volatile behaviours such as hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, screaming, harsh words or perhaps something else. While there are many forms of aggression, each one of them serves as an expressive reminder that our child is experiencing frustration because they couldn’t change the situation.

More often than we maybe realize, we inadvertently move our children to aggression by not making it easy for them to have their tears. One of the most common reasons we try and shut down their tears is because of how they make us feel. We may feel saddened, guilty or perhaps even frustrated by their tears and so we try to make them stop as quickly as we can, either with distraction or by admonishing them for crying.  Each time we do this we block the child from feeling their sadness and in so doing, we rob them of the opportunity to feel their sadness about that which they cannot change.

The way through with a child who is displaying aggression is relatively simple, but not always easy! Aggressive behavior is a response to being frustrated and the child is being driven to act out on how they feel. They are responding to what isn’t working for them. Young children, or the immature, lack what’s called ‘brain integration’ which means they are not yet developed enough to feel their big feelings and simultaneously consider their actions. That’s why young children say what they think, and behave how they are feeling. They don’t yet have the capacity to think twice, or to consider the consequences of their behavior in order to reign themselves in at that very moment. They often know better than they do, which is true for anyone immature, regardless of their age.

So how to help the aggressive child as parents?

  1. acknowledge their upset as frustration. They are not rude, mean, or inconsiderate, they are feeling FRUSTRATED. Acknowledging their frustration isn’t giving them permission to act out, it’s helping them to take up a relationship with how they are feeling…and that is a really crucial ability to develop when we are growing up. So many adults still don’t know what they are feeling, they just act out.
    1. In order to lead your child, you must first learn to read your child.  Watch them closely. How do they respond when they are starting to feel frustrated? What happens when they are driven to express their frustration? Be careful not to be distracted or derailed by their outward behavior, it is providing you with insightful clues as to where they need your help with their inner struggle to adapt. Expression is key to healthy development. As children grow up their outward expression of frustration becomes more controlled, not because we teach them self control, but because their brain has integrated. As human beings mature, we become capable of having our tears on the inside in the form of feelings of disappointment or futility and we no longer have to physically act out, or openly weep in response to every frustration in order move through it.
    2. Trying to teach a lesson in the moment is never very productive because we are feeling emotionally rattled and so are our children.
  2. Our work is best done after the incident when our nerves and their upset has subsided and we have restored the heart connection between us.That’s when they will be ready to hear our words and take in our values and expectations.

Notes: Neufeld is a developmental psychologist & his approach (his attachment-based developmental model) is based on the attachment theory formulated by John Bowlby.

Source: Miller – 2016

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