Supporting a child who is always angry

Jamal aged four had regular angry outbursts where he would shout, scream and sometimes throw things. He was very fragile and would get upset very easily if he got something wrong, was asked to do something he didn’t want to or he wasn’t chosen to do an activity. This sometimes resulted in him lying on the floor kicking his legs and screaming. The staff at his nursery were finding his behaviour increasingly difficult to manage and were worried about the impact on the other children. Jamal’s tantrums were becoming more regular and he was getting very upset afterwards and taking a while to calm down and settle back in to the nursery day. His behaviour was unpredictable and he would often lash out at other children, seemingly for no reason. He had started to tell tales and blame the others children for things and would say “he did it” pointing at another child, rather than admitting to his behaviour. Some of the other children in nursery had begun to be wary of him and move away when he approached them. He was also becoming more disruptive at carpet time, calling out, and had begun challenging the nursery staff when he was asked to do something.

It is not uncommon for children of Jamal’s age to still be having tantrums, although this is a more appropriate developmental stage of a two to three-year-old, but some of the other behaviours such as being controlling and arguing may be more usually associated with an older child. However, the level and frequency of Jamal’s anger indicates that his behaviour is a concern, along with his lack of resilience and poor relationships with the other children.

There may be a variety of reasons for Jamal’s behaviour and it is essential that the nursery staff explore this his parents rather than just reprimanding him or trying to get him to change his behaviour. When children are happy, settled and ok in their world they are usually happy, settled and ok in the setting. When a child is showing us behaviour like Jamal’s, they are very clearly communicating to us that they are not ok and it is our job to find out why.

The nursery staff need to explore some of the possible reasons for his behaviour and try and understand how he is feeling. When children are always angry, they are often feeling upset, anxious and scared as well. It is crucial that the staff try and help him with all these feelings, not just focus on the anger. It is worth considering his home life and sensitively exploring his parents approach to managing his behaviour at home, discussing areas such as boundaries which may be inconsistent or lacking.  Staff can also explore if Jamal is used to being in control at home and whether his parents just give in to him, maybe because they think it’s easier to do this. Finally, it would be useful to know if he witnesses or hears conflict or violence between adults in his family or if he watches or plays inappropriate computer games?

All staff need to use a consistent, predictable and positive and nurturing approach with Jamal to help him feel safe and secure at nursery. This can be reinforced by them using affirmative language and saying things like “at nursery we share our toys etc”. This will help him to understand the difference between nursery and home in terms of expectations of behaviour in case there are some differences. As children are often unable to understand and express their feelings he will need help to put his feelings into words and staff need to provide him with the vocabulary to be able to do this. The staff can try and ensure they attune to the intensity of what he is feeling with the appropriate tone and facial expression to show they really understand the strength of what he is feeling. For example, ” You really wanted the banana with the skin on, it made you furious when I took it off”.

When a child is locked in rage, they cannot find the words themselves and will be experiencing the feelings as a bodily sensation which can be overwhelming and frightening. Jamal is not yet developmentally capable of finding the words to express his feelings and he needs help from a caring adult who can provide him with the words, e.g. “I can see it made you really cross when you couldn’t be at the front if the line, but remember we take turns at nursery. It is important that the staff don’t try and persuade Jamal out of the feeling, instead affirm and acknowledge it so he no longer feels alone with his feelings and remember that children express their feelings through their behaviour.

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