Usually, when children express anger more than often they are labelled as ‘aggressive’ or ‘angry children’. But aggression isn’t the only reason why your child could be behaving this way. Anxiety can often mask itself as aggression. Even as adults it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms and control our anxiety, so when children experience these emotions, they often don’t understand what to do.
When we think of anxiety, we always think about freezing up, withdrawing from social situations and not speaking up. But that is not always the case. Anxiety occurs when our brain's amygdala senses trouble-causing hormones like adrenaline to rise in the body, hence triggering our fight or flight response. This fight or flight response is essential for keeping humans alive and healthy. Anxious brains are also just as strong and healthy as any other, but it’s just a little protective of itself. At times when the fight or flight response is activated, instead of ‘flight’ from the situation of anxiety the brain ‘fights’ against it. There isn’t a lot of time for your consciousness to judge whether the behaviour is correct or not, it just wants to protect itself.
Children experience many new things in day to day life, meeting new people, trying new things – they go through several emotions. Experiencing these emotions allows them to grow into healthy adults able to form good relationships and perform better at tasks. For anxious children, every new step, new emotion can trigger the amygdala to believe it's dangerous and activate the fight or flight response. Their response in the fight towards protecting themselves can be taken as aggression from parents and onlookers.
It is never too late for you to recognize these signs in your child’s behaviour and be able to give them the help they need.
- Understanding that the reason for your child’s behaviour could be anxiety is important. Your child isn’t trying to annoy you on purpose, they could be facing stronger emotions themselves and are unable to talk about it. Children need their parents to be their friends and guide them through life. To be able to help them, you have to be willing to understand them.
- The most powerful way to help them overcome anxiety is to explain, talk to your child about anxiety. Children are very accepting of new topics; they are quick learners and their potential for understanding is boundless. When they can relate to the teaching, they gain an even better understanding. Be upfront about it, make them comfortable and they will understand.
- Equip them with the right skills. As your child slowly starts to understand anxiety, it is also important for them to know what to do if they are anxious. Breathing exercises can always calm an anxious brain. Teach them to count up to 10 and take a breath when they feel these emotions. You can also teach them the 5 tricks – five things they can see, 4 things they can feel, 3 things they can touch, 2 things they smell and 1 deep breath. This exercise can help bring their focus off the topic of anxiousness to the present where everything is calm and okay.
- If you feel that your child isn’t too comfortable talking to you, get help from others. Allow a close family member they are comfortable with or even a therapist to speak with them.
At times many parents can feel offended that they are the reason why their child is experiencing anxiety and get angry themselves, but you have to remind yourself that if you become angry as well and try to push their boundaries you will only end up shutting them off even more. Children’s emotions are delicate and we can’t always expect them to know what to do. They are still humans and they are learning and will make mistakes. As parents, all we can do is allow them to experience these emotions independently and guide them to express their feelings healthily.
At times it can be overwhelming to deal with young children, but if you are patient and notice the underlying reasons for their behaviour, you will be able to help them.