Cynthia called and said, “My ten-year-old, Brad, is always picking fights with his younger brother and causing disturbances in the family. If you can think of an annoying behavior, he does it.”
“Your son is simply expressing his pain and anger,” I said.
“What’s he angry about?” she asked.
“You,” I said. “He’s in a great deal of pain because of your inability to love him.”
“My dear, I am not criticizing you. You asked me why Brad behaves like he does, and I’m just explaining it to you.”
After considerable discussion, she began to understand what she had done with Brad over the years, and that there was hope for change if she began to take the steps to find love for herself.
“So,” she said, “what can I do in the meantime with all his anger?”
“Not only is he angry, but he doesn’t know WHY he’s angry, and that confusion only adds fuel to his fire. The first thing you’ll do is explain to him what I’ve told you, about how you have failed to love him unconditionally, causing his pain and anger.”
“And then you will make finding love and sharing it with him the central focus of your life.”
“And his anger will go away?”
“Yes, eventually, but between now and when he begins to really feel your love, you can help him with the expression of his anger.”
“Right now he’s lashing out at everything and everybody, in great part because he doesn’t understand what he’s angry about. His anger is unfocused, which becomes a disease that quickly spreads within him and to those around him. You’ll help him with some of that as you explain the cause. And you’ll also begin to help him express his anger in a more focused way.”
“Right now he simply lashes out, as I said. So he yells, hits, and disrupts. He doesn’t know how else to express his anger. You’re going to help him focus his anger. So when he hits or yells, you’re going to help him express his anger in a more intelligent and productive way.”
“What would that look like?”
“Young boys never tire of jokes about bodily functions, passing gas, pooping, belching. You could use that. It will certainly get his attention. So you explain that everybody knows that there is nothing wrong with pooping, but there is a way and a place—using a toilet—that is vastly preferred over indiscriminate defecation all over the house. Every child understands that you don’t poop in the middle of the living room floor.”
“He will enjoy this discussion, to be sure.”
“So you tell him that there will be no more pooping whenever or wherever he wants—a rule that will guide others in the family as well. Imagine, for example, that you’re traveling with the kids in the car, and Brad is provoking trouble in the back seat. You could pull over to the side of the road or into a parking lot and say, ‘I smell poop in the car. Brad, do you smell it?’ I promise you’ll have his attention, and at that point, you ask HIM to state the principle of expressing anger in an acceptable and constructive way. It’s far more effective when he states the principle himself than if you simply say it for him—nagging him for the hundredth time, which he hates and which doesn’t work.”
It’s difficult to entirely prevent anger—in a child or an adult—but you can certainly train people where and how to express it. Unfocused anger is destructive, and because it’s just an uncontrolled lashing out, people don’t learn from it either. We can learn how to avoid unfocused anger and instead to express it in a way that is far more constructive.
Want to learn more?
Eliminate confusion and conflict with your children.