A large group
of our young people suffer from emotional and behavioral problems.
Studies indicate that between 17% to 22% of youth under age 18
suffer from emotional and behavioral problems. This means that
between 11 million to 14 million children are at risk for emotional
impairment. A majority of these children have difficulty in handling
anger and act out in violence and intolerance.
of hostility without problem solving creates more hostility
for the child and ends up with peer rejection. Habitual, hostile
expression of anger perpetuates an environment that is unhealthy
for all involved. Venting anger only turns up the heat and keeps
it flaming through justification of the right to be angry. The
angry person may feel better for a short time after raging but
underneath he often feels worse for losing his cool. Or he may
hold on to his anger rationalizing it to himself and others
in an attempt to maintain his right to behave in violent ways.
Anger and Social Skill Deficits
are habitually angry typically suffer from skill deficits. They
have missed learning some of the basic skills in getting along
with others. They misinterpret social situations that are ambiguous
and respond with aggressive behavior. They have a set of beliefs
that emphasize retaliation. They may erroneously believe that
self righteous expression of anger is healthy. Habitually angry
children have not learned to put themselves in others' shoes and
see things from other people's perspective. They have not learned
the skill of consequential thinking. They do not know how to break
into their rigid thinking and cannot stop making judgments about
others. They have strong "shoulds" for others and get upset when
others do not follow their wishes. They blame others for their
problems and do not take responsibility for their own actions.
They cannot allow themselves to see that they are at fault for
some of their problems.
who get upset daily over many small things have a one-response
perspective on life. Their belief is that "I want what I want
when I want it and can do whatever it takes to get it! I have
the right to get angry over every little thing. It is right
for me to be angry and express it any way that I want. I have
a right to have it my way." They have destructive entitlement
beliefs that keep them convinced that others must conform to
their wishes. They believe that the world "owes them" because
they are "special." Since the world rarely goes the way they
want, they are continually disappointed and become more angry.
Their negative self talk convinces them that it is horrible
when things do not happen the way that they want it to be.
children are internalizers--they take negative things inside
and are secretly angry. They are not comfortable in letting
others know how they feel. They rarely talk about or express
their anger directly to others. Their belief is "I must be the
nice guy and can't let you know how angry I really am." They
develop physical symptoms due to the stuffing of the anger.
Anger can be directed inwardly or outwardly. In either case
the person is caught in behavior that alienates him from others.
Parental Styles and Children's Anger
styles that often correspond with children's excessive anger
are "giving too much" or "giving too little." The "giving too
much" parent tries to meet the child's every need. This results
in the child believing that the world revolves around them.
Children who are spoiled by their parents often grow up believing
that they should get everything they want and they have the
right to be angry if they do not get it. This parenting style
results in a high demand child who has a sense of entitlement
from others. He does not learn to deal with inner frustration
and delay gratification. At a deep level, what the spoiled child
really wants is parents who consistently set limits, say no
in a loving manner and give him attention when he acts appropriately.
Not being given limits and structure, he is angry.
too little" parent is self involved and does not nurture the
child. The parent may be cold and rejecting, due to being involved
with addictions or be an angry person himself. The parent may
be busy and self involved and literally is never at home for
the child. The unwanted child grows up feeling neglected, rejected
and abandoned. Every day he must contend with feelings of desperation,
being misunderstood, frustration, fear, loss, grief and betrayal.
The child cannot express his anger because he fears that his
parent might reject him further.
who has been heavily criticized and abused by a parent often
grows up believing "damned if I do and damned if I don't." This
type of child feels that he is not worthy of getting his needs
met and feels shame for not measuring up to what his parent
expects of him even though it may be irrational. The child who
suffers from verbal and physical abuse is angry about this injustice.
His hostility towards others is displaced anger. Acting out
can be an unconscious attempt to make his parents give him what
he wants. If aggression and violence are modeled in the home,
the child learns that coercion is associated with power and
getting one's own way.
Injustices Set the Stage for Perception of Threat and Aggressive
learn aggression through watching someone else engage in it. Gerald
Patterson's Coercion Model of aggression suggests that parents
who lack parenting skills unwittingly train their children to
be noncompliant and act in antisocial ways. Poor parental discipline
skills and coercive management practices cause escalation of child-parent
conflict and increase children's aggression. The child and parents
elicit negative behavior from each other. There is lack of choice
in the coercive family--there is one message "Do what the most
powerful member of the family dictates." Children feel helpless
and sense the lack of justice and live under conditions of threat.
child perceives threat in situations that are unclear. He retaliates
with impulsive anger thus distancing his classmates. He distorts
what he sees and perceives injustice in small things which others
would overlook. Peers' hostile comments only convince him that
his beliefs of threat are valid. He ends up being rejected and
isolated from his peers. Cut off from friends who can provide
positive models of behavior, he feels lonely and discouraged.
He feels the world is against him. Again his choices become
limited. His cycle of perceptual distortions and aggressive
child may have experienced a childhood where his early dependency
needs were not met. The child whose needs were not met by his
parents feels the lack inside. He feels "owed" on an unconscious
level. He focuses on issues of "It's not fair" because unconsciously
he felt what happened to him was not fair. And, in a sense,
he was "owed" because he missed out on basic nurturing and love.
In later years the child goes through life trying to get others
to make up for what his parents did not provide. He has limited
skills and tools to interact with people. Since he cannot gain
acceptance and friendships from others, he learns to substitute
irrational anger, cruelty to others, addictive substances, workaholic
behavior or material objects to fill his neediness.
angry child reacts continuously to perceived small injustices
in daily life. In effect, he is saying to other people, "You
owe me. Pay up!" He can't get what he wants from his parents
so he tries to get it from other people. Symbolically, continual
anger can be a covert statement to his parents, "It is not fair.
Give me my basic needs. Pay attention to me or I will hurt someone."
People who are revengeful generally have a belief of entitlement
of "I have a right to be angry and get back at the person. I
have a right to hold on to my anger even though it hurts me."
As the old proverb says, angry children seem to cut off their
nose to spite their face. Grudges seem to run in families with
some individuals feeling pride about staying angry and being
Children's Violence and the Unwillingness to Feel Vulnerable
believe that violence and abuse within a family takes place
because the dominant person in the family abuses his or her
power. Typically this abuse of power is by a male who has to
prove himself by acting in macho ways and rationalizing this
behavior as his "right." The use of alcohol aggravates this
observe the parental interactions and identify with both the
victim and the aggressor. They internalize these actions of
both parents and carry them out in other settings. By identifying
with the victim in the family, they learn fear and weakness.
That is why aggressive children are often a pushover for someone
tougher than themselves. They go to any length to hide these
feelings of weakness from others and from themselves.
adopt a macho style to foster a false self-identity are usually
highly judgmental. They judge others according to standards of
toughness and macho behavior. They cannot tolerate differences
in other people according to narrow views of life. They act tough
to avoid the feelings of shame inside for being weak. They avoid
being seen as helpless and keep an illusion that they are in control
by acting tough. They fear being called a wimp and try to measure
up in the manly category so they will not be rejected by tough
people they seek to emulate. Their identity becomes caught up
in the old kid's game of King of the Mountain. They keep the illusion
of being in charge by the self message of "Be big and tough and
ready to take anyone on to show how tough you are." They often
have a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude and dare others to push them
into aggression. They learn that intimidation of others can be
reinforcing because it gives them a feeling of power. Rigidity
of thinking, judgmental beliefs and the need to feel superior
are the basis for prejudice and bigotry.
to others and the need to act hard and tough are defense mechanisms
against feeling vulnerable. Children who harm others fear being
hurt and exposed for their weakness. They go to any lengths
to avoid letting others see how frightened they are and feel
unsafe if they let their guard down so that others can see their
vulnerability. The child who acts tough begins to feel superior
as a defense against feeling the bad feelings. He rationalizes
hurting others in his need to feel superior. At times the angry
child may elicit a violent response from a punishing adult as
a way of keeping the punishment under his control. His ability
to evoke a negative reaction from an authority figure keeps
him believing that he is in control even though there may be
serious consequences to himself.
being tougher than others can keep the child caught in a cycle
of shame, egotism and misbehavior. Acting out becomes an unconscious
way to escape the terrible feelings of shame inside. Other shame-based
defenses of angry children include denial, silence, intellectualization
and distancing from the problem by placing the blame on someone
attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity often have difficulty
inhibiting their teasing behavior that later develops into aggressive
behavior. Some of these children have problems of anger. Unable
to control their actions, they become the target for negative
attention from others and their self-esteem plummets. They often
have deficits in thinking such as interpreting the social cues
of a situation and cause-effect reasoning. Other children learn
to avoid children with impulse control problems and they often
end up being rejected.
of child who is attracted to aggression is the Type T child. Type
T stands for thrill. Individuals who have a central nervous system
that enjoys being revved up and feeds on dangerous activities
are Type Ts. Type T children have under-aroused heart rates, sweat
glands, and skin temperatures. Their physiological systems are
slower to respond to external stimulation and they require high
excitement and risk to feel stimulated. They look for novelty,
uncertainty, high risk, variety, complexity, high intensity and
conflict. Type T children seek activities that increase their
adrenaline such as going fast on bicycles over ramps, jumping
off of high places and engaging in dangerous sports. They seem
to have no fear of physical harm and are unaware of the danger
in which they place themselves. They spend more time on the street
and tend to get in trouble. Properly channeled, Type T individuals
have a lot to contribute to society because they are risk takers
who enjoy challenges. Indiana Jones is a prime example of a good
guy, Type T action-seeking individual.
T individuals carry a large amount of anger, they tend to engage
in activities that are harmful to others but are exciting and
reinforcing to themselves. Bonnie and Clyde are examples of
antisocial Type T individuals who lacked the skill of respecting
others and their property. Gang members are often angry individuals
who seek novel, dangerous activities through law breaking and
intimidation of others. Children who start early in life to
hurt others and then are rejected by their peers are most likely
to seek out gangs.
groups of people who collectively engage in bully behavior. Children
who have poor self esteem seek to find an identity in being a
gang member. Members of gangs are taught new ways of intimidation
and extortion in the gang by the older leaders. The aggressive
behavior is highly reinforced by peers' submissiveness. The sense
of exaggerated pride, injustice, and feeling entitled to use and
hurt others becomes set. Violent behavior is rationalized as a
the words of Pablo, a gang member from El Paso, discussing ways
to reduce drug use and gang violence as reported in the El Paso
There is too much orgullo (pride) among gang members. That orgullo
gets in the way of young people trying to go straight. Orgullo
makes you want to be tougher than the next guy. Orgullo can
be a very positive thing, but it can also help destroy young
people. Negative orgullo creates problems....The best way to
improve the situation is for those who care to get completely
involved in a gang member's life. That means hanging out with
them and getting into the heart of them. A gang member may be
abused by his dad or he may have a single-parent mother. He
may be hurting, but he'll never tell what's hurting him. He'll
never say what's truly in his heart. Instead, he'll pretend
that everything's cool and all he wants is to do is party with
is a human trait; it has been necessary for our survival as
a species. We live in a country where violence is becoming a
way of life. Our media glorifies violence and children are presented
with countless acts of simulated and actual aggression each
day. If our society condones violent behavior it will be present.
The effects of speaking out and standing up to abuse can help
change the social conditions that support it. By teaching children
skills to deal with aggression early on, we will have a society
that has less tolerance for bullying and aggressive behavior.
We need to develop ways of honoring the innate quality of aggression
and finding safe outlets for it.
Teaching Social Skills--Breaking Into the Cycle of Shame
therapists can help the antisocial child express the vulnerable
part that has been hurt by others to break through the outer mask
of toughness and defiance. The child who bullies really wants
to be loved and understood but he does not know how to ask for
it. He only knows that his intimidation affects others and he
gets what he wants. The submissiveness of others give him power
that substitutes for the love he craves. His rage helps him momentarily
ventilate the unresolved hurt and shame inside.
the internal global belief of "I am bad" is thought to be the
mechanism that keeps the child caught in acting out behavior.
Shame blocks positive information from coming in. The child
feels bad about his explosive outbursts that give him the attention
that he cannot get from achievement and friendships. The aggressive
child desires affection, but is afraid of being swallowed up
and depleted by others. He has the mistaken belief that intimacy
represents being controlled by others. He learns to substitute
enjoyment of hurting others for friendship. It is paradoxical
that his anger keeps intimacy away and denies that one thing
that the person desires the most--to be loved. The ability to
accept kindness and love from someone is a skill that the child
has missed out on. The basic skill deficit of the antisocial
child is trust of others.
Children Do Not Have to Remain Angry
to learn effective techniques to deal with threat and their resulting
anger. They need to learn the difference between actual and perceived
threat. If anger is pushed down or denied, it builds up until
there is an explosion over something insignificant. Mastery of
the emotion of anger by expressing it in a socially appropriate
way is necessary for independence and self-reliance. Staying centered
in the present during other people's outbursts of anger is a skill
that can be learned. Deep breathing and focusing on choices will
allow more clarity and the time to move into logical problem solving.
give children a bigger bag of tricks from which to choose. We
can teach them alternatives to aggressive behavior so that they
can get their needs met. We can teach them to surround themselves
with people who are supportive, caring and nurturing. Antisocial
children can be taught to take care of themselves through relaxation,
stress management techniques and self soothing. They can learn
that self-angering thoughts can be challenged and interrupted
and to inhibit impulsive behavior. With adult encouragement,
negative feelings of anger and shame can be released.
help children achieve more of their potential by teaching them
positive social skills. Like the one trick pony who was shown
love and skill training, the angry child can learn new tricks
to help him deal with the stress and threat he will inevitably
meet in these times of chaos and violence. Given loving kindness,
the angry child can change his perceptual distortions of seeing
hostility and threat when there is none. Trust of others and
of one's own ability to make good choices in response to threat
can be acquired. When we accept the child with all his scars
and defensive stances and insist on him acting in healthy ways,
we challenge his growth and send him better equipped to deal
with the world.
your children learn positive social skills, see the curriculums
and products in our Talk, Trust
and Feel Catalog.
FOR TEACHERS & THERAPISTS
To Angries Out