In some cases, anxiety manifests itself as anger in children. Unfortunately, many times when a child exhibits angry behavior, it's often just seen as acting out or being naughty, but in many cases, anxiety is at the heart of it. Wondering if there is some fear and anxiety lurking beneath your child's angry outbursts? Here's what you need to know:
Anxiety can induce a fight-or-flight reaction.
When a child has anxiety, their brain is essentially working overtime to protect them. It senses danger in situations where it may not really be present -- these can range from going to a new place, to thinking about going to a new place, to picking out an outfit, to trying a new food, to getting a question wrong in school.
When the brain senses danger, it floods with stress hormones, and these create a classic fight or flight reaction. If your child is prone to choosing fight, anger is what happens. This can include outbursts, fits or yelling.
Understanding context is key.
If you are trying to assess whether or not your child's anger is linked to anxiety, it's important to look at the underlying causes of his or her fits. Was something stressful happening? Was your child uncomfortable -- many kids with anxiety also have sensory issues, and even an errant sock seam can feel like a massive disaster to them.
Also, consider whether your child was tired or hungry. Both hunger and fatigue can increase anxiety, and if you see angry outbursts during these times, anxiety may be the culprit.
Timeouts may increase anxiety.
If you suspect that anxiety is the key, try taking a new approach to your child's anger. Instead of punishing your child for angry outbursts, try addressing his or her anxiety instead. If anxiety is really the underlying cause of the anger, changing your responses can help you find out.
In many cases, parents give their children a timeout when they have a tantrum, but this type of isolation can create more anxiety (sometimes still displayed as anger) in that child. If your child is kicking and screaming throughout the timeout, that could be a sign that the timeout is not working.
Instead, approach tantrums in another way. If necessary, stop your child from hurting him or herself or anyone around them by holding them tightly until the anger passes. When your child is a bit calmer, try working on some calming techniques.
Calming techniques take time to perfect.
There are multiple techniques you can use to help your child with his or her anxiety. You can talk about his or her emotions -- as your child becomes more aware of his or her feelings of fear and anxiety, he or she will be more likely to talk them through and less likely to have a fit.
You can also use calming techniques such as deep breathing or meditation. Keep in mind that these techniques take a while to perfect, and it may even take a while before your child is willing to try them. Your child has been forming patterns where he or she feels fear and immediately turns to anger. It is going to take a while for your child to get used to feeling fear and dealing with it in calm, constructive ways. Remember, it can take adults a long time to deal with anxiety as well.
Counseling can help anxiety and anger.
Whether your child's anger is caused by anxiety or anything else, counseling may help. A psychiatry professional can work with your child to help find calming techniques. He or she can also find ways to help you advocate for your child's needs with teachers and other caregivers. For more information, contact a counseling center like Comprehensive Behavioral Health Associates Inc.