Pearl is six years old. Until six months back, she was a quiet girl, very amenable to what her parents told her to do. Recently she has been rude, aggressive and angry about many things. She has hit her maid, the school has complained that she has scratched a girl in class and has been rude to her mother almost all the time. How can she be helped?

Causes of Anger

There are many potential causes of anger and aggression.

Victims: Some children who are too aggressive have been the victims of aggressive behavior. Abusive parents, siblings, or peers can be imitated by the abused. Children who are "picked on" will pick on other children. However, it is not necessary that all aggressive children are abused themselves.

Overindulgence: If children are accustomed to get what they want when they want it, they may become verbally or physically aggressive with other children when their wish is not immediately granted. They may even bully their parents and siblings.

Roughhousing: Aggressive behaviors may also be imitations of play for some children. Rough housing and fun teasing may be defined as love for children, and hitting and touching become an automatic way of interacting. They may not understand they are being aggressive.

TV and Video Games: Sometimes children's programmes involve as much aggressive behavior as adult ones!

Individual Parenting: Another important source of aggressive behaviors is parents who are not parenting as a team. If a parent takes the child's side against the other parent, aggressive and manipulative behavior is often the result. This is because the child is given more power than the other parent. This especially happens during or after a divorce.

Inner Anger: Sometimes children have inner anger because of something that has gone wrong in their childhood that they do not understand. Adopted or foster children, who have been neglected as infants, children involved in predivorce arguments, children whose parents have serious medical problems, all could be acting out their unconscious unhappiness and frustrations.

Disorders: Hearing, visual, or intellectual deficits that children cannot explain to parents can cause frustration and lack of understanding that result in angry and aggressive behavior.

Why do we need to treat anger? Although anger is a healthy emotion when it is expressed appropriately can have devastating effects when it is not. Left unchecked anger can destroy relationships and obstruct problem solving. It also affects one’s physical health contributing to headache, coronary disease, etc.

Children need to be constantly reminded that WHILE IT IS OKAY TO BE ANGRY, IT IS NOT OKAY TO BE MEAN. Instead of expressing themselves aggressively (shouting, screaming, hitting, kicking) they can be assertive (stating what they feel and what they want done in a calm, neutral tone).

Acceptable Ways To Express Anger: In the long run, you want your child to be able to verbalize his anger in a calm but assertive way. Encourage your child to come to you when he's angry and to talk about it until he feels better. Teach your child to stop and count to 10 before doing anything about his anger. Help him learn to walk away from a bad situation.

A). THE TURTLE TRICK: When your child is upset, have her do the turtle trick. (It is best to practice this at a time when she is not angry.) Explain to her that rather than hitting or calling someone names, she may pretend that she is a turtle. When a turtle gets scared or mad, he goes inside his shell where it is safe. The shell gives the turtle a chance to calm down because it is protecting him from others. If she goes into her "shell" it will protect her because she won't get into trouble for hitting a playmate. This is generally effective with young children who enjoy "pretend" playing although it may take awhile for them to become good at this.

B). USE YOUR POCKETS: Explain to your child that it is okay to be upset, but it is not okay to hit or break things. When she is angry, have her put her hands in her pockets or hold them behind her back. This will help control the urge to hit. While her hands are in her pockets, have her tell the person how she is feeling and why. This also encourages effective communication skills.

C). SAY IT NICELY: When you are angry, it is difficult to be polite. Practice with your child ways to say you are mad that do not hurt others. Some examples include, "That bothers me," "Stop hassling me," "I don't like that," "That makes me angry," and "Leave me alone." Notice that all of these statements avoid starting with "you." When you say, "You are bugging me," it only makes the person defensive and they will annoy you more.

D). WRITE DOWN YOUR FEELINGS: Buy your older child a diary where he can write down his feelings. What makes you angry? (“Mummy nagging me to study.” ) followed by Why does it make you angry? (“She treats me like a little kid all the time.”) and then, How can you use your anger more constructively? (“Mum, I am old enough to take responsibility for my studies so please wait till the results of this exam.”) . Or, have him write a letter to the person that made him upset. Pretend that he is going to give this note to that person. Tell that person exactly how she made him feel and why he is feeling that way. If your child can't write, have him dictate a letter to you. Keep the note for awhile, and when your child is no longer angry, have him tear up the letter and throw it away.

Acknowledge feelings: Your child needs to know that all feelings are acceptable but all actions are not. Your daughter comes home from school and starts cribbing about the poor quality of food, the poor quality of service (horrible maid or mum) - basically the poor quality of everything. You can help by verbalizing her feelings for her. You are angry with Niti for not calling you for her party. It hurts to be left out hmm?” Just by validating her feelings you are letting her know you understand, you are defusing her anger and also making her aware that she can express her feelings instead of coming home and blaming you.

Identify Triggers: Triggers can be overt like provocation by others (bullying) or misperception of events (feeling blamed) and they can be covert like negative self-talk (that guy is a jerk ...) or physiological states (hunger, tiredness, lack of sleep). Help your child identify what triggers off an angry response.

ABCs of Anger: A is the Activating event; B is the Behavior; and C is the Consequence. We mistakenly feel that an event is responsible for our actions but that is not true. An event evokes a feeling or a behavior, which makes us act in a particular way. For instance, the class bully calls your daughter a nerd and she punches her. The activating event (Nerd) caused the consequence (punch). The punch was a consequence of your daughter’s feelings of helplessness, which lead to anger, which caused the aggression. Make her aware of this. She should think of her feelings before executing an action.

Self-calming techniques: Relaxation exercises; physical activity like walking, running, games; deep breathing exercises; counting from 1 to 10 or 20 or 100; soothing activities like listening to soft music, warm bath, reading.

Role Model: Is she learning to express her anger in undesirable ways because you show your anger this way? Maybe you need to rethink your way of handling anger too. Show self-control and verbal problem solving yourself. Never hit your child for hitting someone else. Hitting your child only teaches that it is fine to hit if you are in a position of power. If your child tends to be aggressive, it is critical to eliminate all physical punishment (such as spanking). You can use many other consequences (such as a time-out) to teach your child right from wrong. Sometimes you will need to make a stronger statement, such as taking away a party or a play date with a friend. Your disappointment in his behavior can be a powerful deterrent. A statement like "You must never hit a child again." will be a clear and appropriate message to an aggressive child.
Help your child avoid playmates that often tease, or other situations in which your child frequently gets into fights. In addition, when your child becomes tired or hungry, leave the play setting.  

Good, consistent parenting: A combination of lax discipline and hostile attitudes by parents can produce very aggressive and poorly controlled children. If you indulge or neglect your child, and then punish excessively, your parenting will cause your child to be aggressive, rebellious, and irresponsible.  

Reward Your Child for Friendly Behavior: Praise him for being nice to people, for playing with age mates in a friendly way, for sharing things and for helping other children who have gotten into a hitting pattern. If your child has a problem with hitting her brother, praise her for giving him a hug or pat. Every time he plays with his friends or siblings without fighting, praise him for playing co-operatively. Some children respond to a system of receiving a treat or star chart for each day they go without any "hitting" behavior.

Establish A House Rule: "Do not hit, because it hurts. We do not hurt people."

Say it with words: Teach him how to ask for what he wants, rather than taking it. Teach him how to take turns or how to trade one of his toys to get another child's toy.  

Time-Out: Make it perfectly clear to your child that aggressive acts are not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Explain why you disapprove. Set the rules, and consistently enforce them. Use the "time-out" penalty. This means that for a specific amount of time the child must be isolated from social contact. After an aggressive act, explain what she did wrong, and walk with her to the "time-out" area. Explain that because of what she did (slapping your leg, pinching her sister, etc.) she will have two minutes of time-out. Set a timer for two minutes and let her know the time-out is over when it rings. 

Being in a time-out helps a child learn to cool down (rather than blow up) when he is angry. Giving your child a time-out is one way of teaching him to walk away from a situation and calm down. Younger children with limited expressive language (less than three or four years old) need time to develop these skills. When they are in a time-out, don't be surprised if they pout, mutter to themselves or yell in their room. As long as the behavior is not destructive, ignore it. 

After putting your child in a time-out, pick up the child who has been injured and give him extra sympathy and attention. It is especially helpful if you can rescue the victim before he is hurt. In your child's mind, the attention he wanted is now being given to the other person, and that should give him some "food for thought." 

Decrease exposure to violence in television and movies: Studies have shown that the more violent the programs preferred by children, the more aggressive their behaviour.