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Planning Retirement Online


Relationships 54    

October 2006

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.

 



IT COULD BE YOU….

My grandson has terrible rages. How can I help?

A grandparent writes:

My grandson is a very bright five-and-a-half-year-old and is having huge rages. My daughter and son-in-law are unable to deal with him as he is very rejecting of them. They say they feel angry towards him in their turn. He is destructive when he is in these moods and wants to hit or smash things, often his own possessions or drawings. They happen almost daily but only at home. He is very good at school.

When he was staying with me a few weeks ago, he told me the rage was frightening because he didn’t want to be naughty and didn’t enjoy the experience but couldn’t stop himself.

Is there anything I can do to help him? He is normally such a bright and happy little boy. I don’t want to do anything to undermine his mum and dad’s parenting.


 

Maggi replies:

You are right to be cautious about stepping in to help, but as his parents have been talking to you about their experience, they obviously trust you and will probably welcome your offer of support to their son. It is important to make it clear that you want to do this because he has confided in you about being scared of his own anger, not because you see his parents as having failed in any way.

Your grandson will probably feel happy to have further chats with you, as it will help him to feel special and not as isolated with the horrid moods that take him over at times. If you live nearby, he can come round to tell you when he feels bad, or, if you don’t live close enough, tell him he can telephone you to talk about things. His parents will need to know in order to allow this to happen. Tell them this is not a treat or reward but a necessary tool for cooling off.

One of the first moves will be to talk with your daughter and son-in-law. Explain to them what you would like to do, how you will do it and what part they can play in helping their little boy cope better with his anger.

Childhood anger often ambushes a child and by the time they register they are angry it is too late to know what to do to control it or how to express it.
Without going into the possible deeper reasons for rage in a young child (which is best handled by a professional counsellor if calm support doesn’t help him), the aim of your intervention needs to be:

  • To help him to talk about his feelings as often as he wishes. This will familiarise him with strong feelings and help him get to know a little more about what happens before the ‘explosion’ and therefore will give him some choice of what to do with the feelings.

  • Encourage him to think about how he feels physically. Once he identifies what is happening in his body he can pick up warning signs of tension more quickly.

  • Ask him to think about whether he needs to be angry and what else he can do instead. Finding out that he could take time out and then speak his angry feelings (safe anger), rather than having rage and being destructive, can be immensely liberating.

  • Teach him to learn how to handle other people’s anger. This can be scary for a small child and, if they are able to say so, the cycle of anger could break and turn into dialogue instead. There may be times when the best thing he can do is learn how to walk away and stay safe (e.g. in the playground, if he experiences rages with his peers).

  •   Help him to feel better about himself. If your little grandson can be helped to think about all of the above, then he will without doubt feel so much happier and more confident. Sudden rages could be the expression of intense frustration and disappointment with himself. He, like many other small children just starting school, might have a very high expectation of his abilities and a genuine wish to please everyone. If things go wrong in any way, the disappointment can be very hard to come to terms with, and he will take it out where he feels safest – at home.

I have found that children love to talk if they are doing something with you, playing with playdough or clay, drawing or colouring-in. Incorporating activities into your talks with your grandson will allow him to confide and explore his thoughts without feeling he has to sit still and be the centre of attention.

At his age, children are learning to read and write and love to use these skills. They can benefit doubly therefore if they are able to read things with you and colour in charts and drawings that have feeling angry as a focus.

Ask his parents to help by offering or accepting his need to walk away from the angry confrontation. Tell him he can tell mum and dad he needs ‘time out’. This will give him thinking time. If he likes the idea of this, prepare and print out some slips of paper - “Telling Tickets” and encourage him to fill in one of these during his time out, with simple words in each line. These tickets are to be his private supply. He can be helped, if necessary, but any adult who does this needs to be able to help without comment.
Tickets can look like this.

When you are too angry to talk, fill in a “telling ticket"
Use “I” statements to say how you feel and what you want. Never use “You” statements because people think you are blaming them.

I feel ……………………..........…............................................................................
.........................................................................e.g. furious, angry, upset, etc.

when …………………….…………...............................................................................
.........................................................................e.g. I can’t have another biscuit

because …………………………… ............................................................................
.........................................................................e.g. I am hungry and its not fair
I would like/prefer/want …............................................................................
..........................................................................e.g. say what would help you

WELL DONE! Now give this to an adult member of the family.

 



 

TA Volcano in My Tummy: Helping Children to Handle Angerhe act of stopping to think will help him calm down and it won’t matter if he spells badly or scribbles on the “tickets”. They are his.
I recommend to you an excellent book called A Volcano in My Tummy by Eliane Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney, which is available on Amazon. This has many exercises, drawings to colour in and stories for a range of age groups that you might find very useful.

Remember, your grandson needs to feel safer from uncontrollable rage and learn that anger, safely expressed, is normal and healthy, and also that there are other ways to express his angry feelings. If he responds well to this help, lovingly offered by a special grandparent, then professional help might not be needed at all. Sometimes we don’t need to dig for reasons; just being there to give unconditional support is sufficient.
Good luck.

 

 


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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