Learning to Listen to My Child's Anger, by Heidi Barrett
I chalked up my child’s sullenness to being sick and in pain, a lack of sleep, and maybe just a dash of teenage angst. She certainly did not want to talk about what was going on (Maggie had recently been diagnosed with a new disease that is potentially fatal). She spent the majority of the time grunting at us instead of using words. In some ways, I thought fair enough as the last few months there had been a lot to process. The majority of the time, Maggie’s juvenile arthritis was well controlled. A sleepiness night or a slight cold could send her into a major flare but we had an arsenal of tricks in our magic bag to keep that interference at a minimum. (Affiliate link below.)
We were visiting our pediatrician over the new diagnosis when the magnitude of my daughter’s anger hit me. Instead of asking questions like the smart girl that she is, she applied everything she knew about her brother’s illness to herself. It was logical and made perfect sense as they both now had the same disease, eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA), but boy was she foaming at the mouth being diagnosed with EGPA. She was so angry about what life had dealt her. I immediately dove into mom mode. A Power Puff Girl’s Band-Aid, a cookie and a kiss on the forehead were definitely not going to mend my little girl’s, broken heart. My girl was angry! But this was not my child. I was going to fix my child. When we got home, I eyed the duct tape. In our household duct tape fixes almost anything; could it possibly fix my child’s broken heart and deal with her anger?
I made appointments with the experts. I cajoled Maggie into doing the techniques she had learned in biofeedback so long ago. She claimed she did not remember. It did not matter, mom would fix this. I would make it better. My child did not need to be angry over a situation she could not control. The more I did, the more sullen my child became. I dragged her to see our adolescent doctor as I was explaining how angry my child was; the look on my daughter’s face stopped me cold. I was unable to hear my child in her hour of need. I had failed my child. My child was angry. It was not my job to fix her anger. Anger is a healthy emotion; even Jesus used anger when driving the money lenders out of the temple.
Anger only becomes a sin when using it as revenge, mistreatment, or malice towards others. Most people will agree, anger is not the best of places to dwell. But somehow we have come to equate angry people with unhappy people. What happens when your child is angry? Not anger out of frustration because they did not get to have ice cream for dessert or get to spend another hour on the computer, but what if your child is angry because of their life situation? Maybe they are dealing with a learning disorder that means they have to spend twice as long studying for a test and squeaking by with a passing grade while their sibling or friend glances at the textbook and receives an A. Maybe they have a medical diagnosis that does not allow them to play sports as they want or maybe they are dependent on another person for their care. How does one help their child through their anger?
I found a terrific workbook on anger, What to Do When Your Temper Flares: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Problems With Anger, but in the end, what my daughter needed most was someone to listen to her and hear her fears. My job as her parent was not to fix her by treating her like she was broken or damaged goods but to listen. Once she understood that I would be her rock, she started sharing her feelings and why she was angry. Just by talking about her fears and the anger she was feeling helped mend her heart. It is not a magic cure-all. She still has bad days dealing with this new diagnosis, but it certainly helps to have a mom that is willing to listen to her instead of instantly trying to fix whatever is broken.