By Christina VanGinkel
We hear a lot of talk about when kids throw tantrums, but not always, that much dialogue about when we realize that far beyond a typical tantrum we find that we are dealing with an angry child. An angry child and a child throwing a tantrum are two extreme opposites. Recognizing the difference is important. Both are dealt with differently, and ignoring anger should never be an option you choose.
If you find yourself asking what the difference, from my own perspective is I would categorize each in the following way. A tantrum being when a toddler or young child shows his or her perceived power or lack thereof through a screaming, crying, and sometimes physical fit, most likely over some inconsequential item or task. They want a toy, the red one not the blue, until you hand them the red one when they then demand the first offensive blue one. They are essentially testing their powers. Or, you tell them to come to the table for dinner, but they are engrossed watching Sponge Bob on the television. When you follow up your request to come to dinner with the command to turn of the television, all order can be lost when their tantrum erupts. Sure, each tantrum is often about something different, but most follow somewhat of a pattern. The child is tired or hungry, they might feel momentarily out of control of their surroundings, and so they throw the proverbial tantrum to regain what they perceive of as power or control, their parent's undivided attention quite often. Ignoring such actions is often the best way to deal with the tantrum at hand. If you do not jump to the attention of them, they lose their power quickly.
An angry outburst is often about issues that are more substantial though. Issues that if you do not deal with them in a timely fashion, can lead to severe consequences. Children can be angry about many things. One somewhat common reason may be the separation from one parent through a divorce. It is often easy for two adults to stand before a child and tell them that they are divorcing each other and not the child, but even the most well intentioned parents may not realize the extent of the consequences that their child will experience from a decision that they had absolutely no say in. This is not to say to those adults that they should stay together, not at all. It is just to make them aware that their child surely has a different view of the ordeal than either parent does. Even when a child may somewhat be aware that the adults should not be together, if he or she has a good relationship with both parents, they may very well feel anger at one or both parents. They might even internalize that anger if they feel so out of control of such a situation that they feel they have no control whatsoever. Be sure that if you even glimpse a problem with anger from such a situation, that you seek out professional help immediately for that child.
Parental separation due to death or a lengthy absence because a parent may be stationed far away for work or military requirements are also big reasons kids may exhibit anger. They may feel that if the parent really wanted to be there, they could, no matter how unrealistic this attitude is. Recognizing why a child is angry, and confronting it head on will at least allow you the power of acknowledgement. Again, seeking professional help is warranted the first time you feel that you cannot handle the situation on your own. Too often, a parent may feel that they are somehow failing with the situation at hand because they feel the need to seek outside help. Not at all! If that is what appears to be the best course, it most likely is. Anger can too often lead to injury, be it the child themselves or someone that the child lashes out at.
Anger may arise for other reasons too. Problems in school, a move, a change of friends, the loss of a pet, or an imagined or very real slight by someone they depend on. No matter the reason that the anger arises, do not ignore it in the way we often ignore tantrums. A tantrum and anger are two different issues, dealt with in extreme opposites at times. Recognizing your child's anger will be the first step towards dealing with it successfully.