I will never forget the day when I walked into my counselling session sobbing. I had been out of my violent relationship for a few years now however my son’s anger and anxiety was getting worse by the day. It had been a whole month of NO sleep from him having anxiety attacks and feeling like he couldn’t breathe, I didn’t understand anxiety and so I had no idea how to help him, all I remember thinking is WTF I am sleep deprived this feels worse than having a new born and when the f&*k is he going to sleep again!! The anxiety attacks were leaving him and myself mentally and physically exhausted. Every morning, every night and every time he was home it was absolute chaos. Most mornings would be a screaming match where I would literally throw his school bag out the front door and tell him to get out of the house. My son’s anger was uncontrollable, my own anger was out of control, my other children were scared and I felt helpless and at a loss as to how to fix this situation.
I couldn’t send him to his dad’s house because he wouldn’t have him and because he was so scared he wouldn’t go anyway in fear of him having another anxiety attack away from me; my new partner was no help as he had never experienced this kind of situation, and I could not find any resources to help my son that was affordable. All I wanted was for someone to take him away from me. I didn’t want to live with my son anymore and he was only ten years old!
This one particular morning I had my counselling session booked and the minute I walked in a just start sobbing and saying “I can’t look after my son any longer, I don’t like him and I can’t look after him anymore; I want someone to take him”. I was more sleep deprived than having a newborn baby, it was EXHAUSTING!! I felt overwhelmed that I had to live with his anger and lack of sleep for another ten years; I felt like I was suffocating at the time. Living with my son’s anger was like living in a violent relationship, only I couldn’t just pack up and leave this relationship, I had no choice but to live with it. It was draining every single bit of energy out of me, I was crying every night, I was constantly feeling anxious at the next outburst, it was as if I was living in my abusive relationship all over again and I just could not leave it.
I found myself ignoring my other children; the well behaved children were being punished for my son’s anger. I just didn’t have the energy to want to spend time with my well behaved children and to be honest I was feeling so angry inside me that I had nothing to offer them in a positive way. My son’s anger was draining the life out of me.
I had done so much work on my own anger however not enough to deal with my son’s anger too. I had no help or support and I felt so alone in this horrible situation.
It got to the point that I absolutely knew my son was not feeling safe at his dads house but I kept threatening that I would make him live there if he didn’t stop his behaviour (of course this made things worse), but once again I was not educated enough to understand this. I phoned my ex partner numerous times threatening to pack my son’s bags and drop him and his bags on his front door and never come back if he didn’t help me with our son. Again of course this did nothing as my ex partner had no idea how to deal with this situation as he too had his own anger issues, let alone help me with our son.
My son was in constant trouble at school, he was not allowed to attend the school camp because of his behaviour, I dreaded the school bell going because I knew he was due to come home, I loved when school started because I could drop him off, I hated weekends because I knew I had him with me the whole time, I refused to go out in public with him because it would only be another drama played out in public, not once did I look forward to being around him and I feel so sad at having those feelings about my own beautiful son; but that was my reality.
One day after days of looking for help and support and not being able to find it, something hit me directly in my thoughts. I just knew I held the answer to helping my son, no one else could do this but ME. My son was never ever going to help himself as he was only ten years old for gods sake, he had no idea about why he was behaving the way he was, he was just mirroring his role models; his mum and dad. This was all my son knew and it was the only way he knew how to behave, how on earth was he meant to be able to help himself at ten years of age!
So that was it my decision was made and I was going to help my son the exact same way I was able to help myself. I stopped looking for outsiders to help me (such as family and his dad), and I dug in deep and went back to basics. I did keep mine and my son’s counsellor’s as I needed that extra support to guide me.
I was absolutely AMAZED that after only two play therapy sessions’ I could see huge changes, already in my son.
My counsellor worked with me, my son’s counsellor worked with my son and between them both they worked with me. I told them as blunt and serious as I could “I want to know absolutely EVERYTHING there is to need to know as to “why” my son is behaving like this. I want to know “how” his brain cells have been affected and I want to know not only the fluffy stuff, I want to know the factual information. I wanted to educate myself on anxiety. I knew in order for me to be able to help my son I needed to get to the absolute core of the reasons behind all of this. When I started to learn about “why” he was behaving like this, I was able to learn about “what’ to do about the situation.
When you make the decision to go and see a counsellor; don’t just go there to talk about your son or daughters bad behaviour, be upfront like I was and tell them you want to go right into the core of the problem, starting from the beginning. Ask to see pictures of the undeveloped brain and “why” this is un-developed, ask them what affects domestic violence has had on your child and why your child is behaving in this way. Ask to be given hand out sheets on factual information, I will guarantee; you WILL feel much more in control of helping him/her manage their anger with this information. Remember, Knowledge is power and the knowledge is there if you are serious about learning it, don’t just think it will come to you, you have to get up, get out and ask for it and most important, you have the power within you to make these changes right now.
When you want something in your life you’ve never had, you’ll have to do something, you’ve never done- JD Houston
It won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. It will feel awkward in the beginning as you have most likely been doing your regular yelling and swearing behaviour pattern now for almost all of your life. You will feel like you are allowing him/her to have control over you and you will possibly do it for one night and have those angry feelings bottled up inside you and your son/daughter won’t be listening and you will bite your tongue as hard as you can and then after one day you will lose the plot at trying to control your anger for so long. When and if this happens don’t let this be the time to give up, try again and keep trying until it becomes a habit. Your child will feel weird too as he/she is seeing a different kind of personality come from you, one in which he/she is not use to. You both need to give this A LOT of time to work and get use to each other.
I understand all cases are different and this may not be the answer to your child. What I want to do though is offer my learning’s to you and if you can see light at the end of the tunnel with these tips and tools use them every single day, if you can’t see this working for your child as I mentioned before go and visit a counsellor or someone who has the factual information and ask as many questions as you must ask as to “why” this is happening, educate yourself on “how” you can change this and take action straight away.
You need to honest and upfront with yourself and be realistic that this is going to be a long work in progress; depending on the severity it can take one year or many years. For me personally it has taken four solid years of serious, daily, consistent work and it is still not perfect and never will be however his anger is now under control.
What use to be a constant out of control anger, and daily anxiety attacks is now down to maybe one outburst a every few months and his anger outburst and anxiety attacks are now manageable. As with myself, my son will always have that “fire cracker” temper in him; its now about educating him and helping him be aware of the “whys” and “how’s” and helping him to control it himself. If you are willing to put in the hard yards now, you and your child will reap the rewards down the track and live a “normal” kind of life. He is only fourteen years old so I can’t talk for the future however knowing I have worked 110% with my son, I can honestly say I feel extremely relieved that I took action to make these changes while he was a young boy. The work will never be finished and it’s a daily job to stay on top. When I see my son play like a normal fourteen year old and win awards at school and be invited to stay at his friends houses because their mums think he is one of the best well behaved children; I feel very proud of the both of us. It is worth every single bit of hard slogging work to see your child happy. Now it’s your turn to experience this new kind of relationship with your child.
What I learnt when working with my son’s anger, anxiety and uncontrollable behaviour was that I was doing the total opposite of what I should have been doing.
I was yelling back at him
I was telling him to shower “now”
Get dressed “now”
Threatening him to live with his dad when I knew of his anxiety of visiting his dad
Locking him in his room
Taking his X box off him when he got angry, (he would have it taken off him constantly)
Grounding him but because I knew he would be staying at home, I wouldn’t stick to it and let him go to his friends
Putting him down and telling him he was just like his dad
Constantly telling him I hated him living in my house
The list goes on forever and I’m sure you can relate to some of these things!
What I educated myself on was the “Counter Intuitive Approach”, the approach of doing the absolute opposite of what I had been doing and this was the number one key to unlocking the answers, I had been searching for.
Instead of me yelling at my son and telling him to go to his room, I would tell him to come and sit with me on his bed and talk to me about his feelings. In the beginning this will feel silly but TRUST me it does start to feel normal. Your child will also not sit and listen however if you keep doing it, they will get use to it.
And ROUTINE ROUTINE ROUTINE is absolutely the crucial factor!!!
Once I had learnt about recognising the feelings behind the anger, I created my own poster (see below).
How I used this poster to help my son with his anger
I printed out my copy of this poster and taped it to the wall. Every time my son would start having an anger outburst, I would either take him to the poster or I would get it off the wall and take it to him. I would talk with a soft calm voice and say “Jack point to the feeling you are feeling right now”, he would point to the feeling and I would then say ok let’s go and talk about this feeling.
Here are some kinds of feelings your child could be experiencing in his/her anger outbursts:
One of my son’s biggest anger issues which lasted years was that he was scared to sleep in his own room; and every day all he could think of was how scared he was going to feel that night. He had no idea how to talk about it as he had no idea that was the issue. I can’t count how many mid-nights I would be out on the front step calming him down and making him breathe in the fresh air and getting him to count to ten slowly to calm his anxiety attacks. Each day he would wake up tired from sleeping on my floor, the first thing he would think about when he woke up each morning was, what he would do that night so that he won’t be scared and he would think about this dilemma all day at school too and as the night got closer his behaviour would get worse, it was his feelings of “fearful” and “anxiety”. It went on for ages until I learnt this is where his anger was coming from. This was just one scenario with many more!
Let’s use these two examples a before and an after:
So my son would be on his way home from school and I would already be thinking “oh god he is due home I wish he didn’t have to come home”. My stomach was in knots and I was already feeling angry inside. I would already have my plan worked out; if he yells he is going straight to his room and I am taking the X Box off him for the night. As you guessed that’s exactly how our afternoon would begin. Jack would walk inside and I would say “did you get into trouble today”? Of course he did and he would tell me and then I would go off in a tangent of how he was a naughty boy and no one will ever like him and he will have no friends blah blah blah! All he could feel was anxiety from his scared night to come, and so he would yell at me and tell me he hated me and he wanted to stab me and it would get out of control. He would punch the walls and I would threaten to call the police (which I did once) or call his dad to come and remove him from my house forever. Of course this added even more anxiety to his feelings which doubled his anger.
Without fail every night before bed he would be angrier and angrier, I would threaten to take his door handle off his door and lock him in his room, it was crazy he would not go to bed. The only way I would get some sleep was to let him sneak into my room and sleep on the cold floor. I had no more in me to fight it.
Nothing got resolved and we would both go to bed hating each other. This was the day to day cycle that went on for years.
I made the decision that each day I would wake up feeling happy and talk calm to my son and talk about positive things such as; “today is going to be a really sunny day and I just know it is going to be a happy day”.
I would then say (EVERY DAY), Jack did you know what you put out into the world you get back, so today if you choose to be angry, you will get people being angry back at you. He started to understand this after a while. I also educated him on the choices he was making and how he was the only one who could make these choices. I would explain different choices such as; if you choose to pick up a stick and hit another kid that is the bad choice YOU make, but if you are being picked on and you go tell a teacher then that is a good choice that YOU have made. No one can make these choices for you and only YOU can. Again I told him over and over again until he started to understand it.
I then decided to work with Jack in a way that I was not dominating and controlling him but giving him choices to take responsibility. Instead of saying “get out of bed now and have a shower”, I bought him a clock and said “Jack what time do you feel is reasonable to get out of bed and have a shower”? Is it 6.00am or 6.30am (we are an early bird family). Jack decided he liked 6.30am and so that was the time he chose to get out of bed and he started to actually get up on time every day, grab his towel at 6.30am on the dot and walk to the shower WITHOUT being asked WOW!
The anger would start coming out once his shower was finished and I would get the poster and take it to his room and sit on his bed and ask him what he was feeling. 9 times out of 10 I realised he was feeling “fearful” from being scared at night. I would stand behind him and put both of my hands on each of his shoulders and slowly and softly count to ten, telling him to slow his breathing down as I counted. I think he started to enjoy feeling loved and heard. We would then sit down and talk through his thoughts and feelings.
I knew then he was experiencing anxiety but he couldn’t put it into words. This realisation was so extreme that I knew I had to do something about it and so I spoke to my partner and told him that I was going to set up a single bed beside my bed and let him sleep there until he feels secure. I told my partner all about the work I was doing with my son and that this won’t be forever, just until I had done some major work with him. My partner didn’t understand why my son was scared, he just didn’t understand . To be honest I didn’t care what my partner thought; this was no longer about us, this was about helping my son. I told my partner that if he didn’t understand or want to understand what my son was going through then that was his decision and that I would never put a man before my children again; I felt so strong about helping my son that I didn’t care one bit if my relationship broke up. I told myself that if my partner did not want to understand and support me through this, then he was not worth living with for the rest of my life. Fortunately my partner has been an amazing support.
My son was extremely embarrassed about this issue in front of my partner and so I took my partner to a few counselling sessions with me to help him understand this situation better. He never put him down again after being educated.
“People are supposed to fear the unknown, but ignorance is a bliss when knowledge is so damn frightening- author unknown”
I got his single bed mattress and set up his bed on my floor and boy did that simple small change eliminate a lot of angry outbursts.
Once I took away his anxiety and he could stop worrying about this every minute of every day, we were able to work on other issues that came up. By working on the most major issue, we were able to work on the “core” of “why” he was feeling so scared. He ended up sleeping on my floor on his mattress for nine months and then we moved his bedroom to be opposite mine when he felt ready to go back into his own bedroom. Some nights he would still sneak on my floor however six nights out of seven he would sleep in his own bedroom. He would leave his bedroom door open but that was no problem. We also made a plan that he had to go to bed at 8.00pm every night so that he would fall asleep before I went to bed, this way he wouldn’t be lying there in his dark room alone feeling scared. When he went to bed the lights were on in the lounge room; both myself and my partner were awake talking or watching TV and he felt safe.
Nowadays when my son comes home from school, I say “hello Jacko, did you have a happy day? He tells me about his day and almost daily has three of his friends who come home with him to play, its just amazing seeing him feel safe and secure.
AND he sleeps in his own bed every single night and has done for a few years now!!!
The answer in your child’s anger and anxiety is naming the feeling behind the outbursts. Can you see the power in it?
This simple strategy was the key that unlocked my son’s insides.
I truly hope you take action to break the cycle of anger and anxiety in your child and remember you are your child’s role model and by changing these cycles you are setting up positive changes for your children’s future generations.
Best of luck x