What To Do With an Angry COD (Child of Divorce)
by Bill Schacht, MS, LSCW
On our free monthly pod cast this week for members who have taken our KIDS-IN-A-BREAK: Providing the Necessary Support for Your Child of Divorce seminar, POD member Tara shared that her 10 year old son is exhibiting an intermittent pattern of anger and tantrum in a variety of situations including when he wants something, when he does not want to do what is asked of him, when he does not get what he wants, and in certain performance situations. She asked, “What can I do, Bill?”
Any useful answer requires careful consideration of the many factors that are causing her son’s angry mood and correlated behavior.
Anger issues are present in many families that divorce. Tara shared that she and her ex engaged in many anger-fueled arguments that her son witnessed. So, knowing something about anger is a good starting point.
Anger is an emotion. But, it is not a primary response. Anger is usually either fear turned outward, misdirected passion, caused by hormonal change, or a combination of these.
When a dog becomes frightened, it will do one of two things. It may cower or roll on its back in a submissive position. It is communicating to the attacker, “Don’t hurt me.” Or, the dog will convert its fear to anger and growl and show its teeth in an attempt to keep the threat at a distance.
Humans, when frightened, will many times do the same. They will non-consciously convert their fear to anger and express that to the scary person or situation. An example of this is when a person gets cut off on the expressway by another driver in a way that an accident in barely avoided. A knee-jerk reaction of rage response is a quick conversion of high level fear into an anger response.
COD’s have many fears in family separation situations. And, many suppress their fears. Then, it squirts out as anger.
So, one way to effectively respond to child’s or adult’s anger is to ask, “Is there something that is frightening you?” This simple question will many times deflect the anger and cause the person who is angry to get to the primary cause – something that is frightening.
Anger as “misdirected passion” is when people are not experiencing enough positive stimulation. They are just not having enough fun. All humans require stimulation; we need to be aroused. What we get from arousal is releases of dopamine, adrenaline, and endorphins – all neuro-chemicals that get us to feel good. When we do not generate enough arousal through healthy and fun activity, the human system can begin to seek arousal through creating mischief. And, getting angry is one way to get a significant shot of adrenaline up our spine.
When a couple in relationship counseling begins by telling me that they “fight all the time,” I immediately ask, “Can you tell what the two of you have done together in the past two months for fun and pleasure?” In 90% of the couples the response is, “Not much,” and many declare little or no sexual activity.
So, with an angry son or a battling spouse, it is good to ask if that person is having enough fun – getting the positive arousal they need. I see many COD’s expressing anger when their parents are not playing with them enough or just not doing enough fun stuff with them.
The hormonal factor of anger can be a rapid fluctuation of estrogen (menstrual cycle related in women) or a build-up of testosterone in a male (not enough sexual release). We’ll eliminate this in Tara’s son’s case.
If Tara’s son did observe many episodes of his parents fighting with dad or both parents in a high anger state, we can hypothesize that his behavior is simply learned. If children see that adults respond to not getting what they want, trying to get what they want, or to avoid responsibility or natural consequences by becoming very angry, they will come to believe that anger is the appropriate response in those situations.
Next time you are feeling angry, ask yourself…
Is there something frightening me?
Am I not having enough fun?
Is it my cycle or not having sexual release?
If your child is angry, check the first two and ponder how much anger and fighting your child may have been exposed to in your family. Please share your wisdom and experiences with the rest of the Association.