Helping a Child Reduce Their Anger

How to Help a Child Prevent and Reduce Their Anger

An Interview with Dr. Pearlyn Goodman-Herrick, a Naturopathic Doctor
By Jaleh

Is your child frequently expressing feelings of anger? Are you having a difficult time understanding where the anger is coming from and what you can do to help your child? If so you’re not alone. There are many parents who have the same experience and feel frustrated when it comes to dealing with their angry child. To help understand possibly causes for a child’s anger and what a parent can do to help I have interviewed Dr. Pearlyn Goodman-Herrick, a Naturopathic Physician licensed in California and Connecticut. She has worked extensively with children and families on parenting issues.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.

“I am a licensed Naturopathic Physician with private practices in Mill Valley and Inverness California. A graduate of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine board certified in Classical Homeopathy, I’ve been in practice for over 30 years and have worked extensively with children as well as adults. Married for close to 40 years, I have two wonderful daughters, ages, 20 and 29. My professional passion is to facilitate people on their healing journey.”

What are some causes for a child’s frequently feelings of anger?

“Children get angry when their needs are simply not being listened to. A child, like any human being has a need for being heard, understood and responded to. Whether we are a child or an adult, the most common response to the feeling of being disregarded is to be angry. Disregard may come in other forms– lack of adequate nurturing by one or both parents, critical treatment and abusive behavior on the part of the parents. However, disregard can also come in more subtle forms–expectations of behavior that are not age appropriate or simply not right for our child. An angry yelling parent is modeling a form of behavior she may find objectionable in her child. Paradoxically, a child may also become very angry if his supposed needs are given too much weight. Indulging a child’s every whim sets the ground for anger as well. A child needs to be heard and also needs adults to set healthy boundaries. For example, I have seen three year olds being asked by their parents, “Is it OK to leave the office now?” The child may then ask for one more story to be read and the parent then asks again “Is it OK?” Children need to feel that their parents are in charge; this gives a sense of safety. Tantrums may occur when too much leeway is given. Unrealistic expectations of any kind also help set the ground for anger in a child. In addition, anger may arise when there are difficulties between the parents or in the family in general. The child may create a problem to “help” the parents– deflecting attention from the true problem. The parents focus on the child and are relieved of the burden of dealing with their own issues.”

What type of impact can a child’s anger have at home or at school?

“If a child is not receiving adequate nurturing or is himself mistreated by a parent, he may take out his anger and frustration on a younger sibling. A bullied child may also bully at school. Anger turned inward can turn a formerly vibrant child into a subdued “good” child with rage, which can explode.”

What can a parent do to help their child reduce their anger?

“First and foremost, a child needs nurturing. Too often we mistake care taking for nurturing. Care taking– the providing of meals and shelter, getting our child to the doctor’s appointment- is of course important. Nurturing is the care taking of another’s heart. We need to look at discovering the child’s real needs, not what we think he should need or be doing. A parent can help reduce their child’s anger by paying attention to the child’s other needs including appropriate parental boundaries. In addition, the parent needs to make sure the child is not being used as a problem to deflect from other problems in the family. While it is wise to ask children why they are angry, it is important to realize that children, especially young ones may not be able to either understand or verbalize why they are angry. An eight-year-old boy was brought to me with the diagnosis of Oppositional Behavior Disorder. A psychiatrist had recommended medication, which the mother wanted to avoid. She came to me seeking Homeopathic treatment for his problem. I soon noted that the boy listened to my requests including sitting in the waiting room until his mother and I had finished talking a bit. He was actually quite cooperative. What emerged was that the mother and her boyfriend both wanted the child to like them and therefore did not want to say no to him. When they said no, he became angry and so they backed off. The child had indeed developed the idea that he didn’t need to listen at home; in effect he was in charge. The mother and her boyfriend had to work through their own issues of the desire to be liked and deal with the boy differently that were much happier when they did.”

What can a parent do if they feel their child’s anger is out of control?

“First it would be wise for the parent to look at the behavior he or she is modeling and to examine how the child is being treated. Children at any age can learn that while it’s OK to feel angry it’s not alright to act in anger by hitting. Older children can learn to identify what triggers their anger. Depending on age, they may be able to look at their beliefs, which trigger anger. Also, is the child being asked to solve a family problem by being one? One might ask friends or family what they think is going on though it may be hard to hear! Remember dealing with a child’s problems may involve dealing with your own issues. Parents who have had harsh authoritarian parents may go in the opposite direction as parents. They do not want the child to suffer as they did and are hesitant to set any limits for the child, mistaking a few tears as evidence of the harshness of their parenting. The child now winds up being the dictator in the family. If you’re having trouble sorting it out, do not hesitate to go for professional advice. The sooner the situation is attended to, the sooner solved. Parenting is a journey and we’re always learning. As kids get older, they explore new limits. As one of my friends said to her eleven year old son,” It’s your responsibility to push the limits; it’s my responsibility to set them!” Be gentle not only with your child, but with yourself for any errors you’ve made along the way in parenting. Kids are wonderfully resilient, appreciative and responsive to the changes we make.”

What last advice do you have for a parent who frequently deals with an angry child?

“Try not to be angry in response. An angry child can be a real challenge. The most important thing is to see if there is an underlying situation, which is provoking the anger. Sometimes, despite very appropriate parenting, a child’s reactions may be disproportionately intense. In these cases treatment with Classical Homeopathy provided by a qualified practitioner can be very helpful.”
Thank you Pearlyn for the interview.

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