We’ve all had experiences of a shut down raging child. It might happen when they don’t get what they want. Or it could be when they are frustrated with themselves for not being able to do what they want. That independence phase.
It might be quite normal for a child to shut down and rage when they are anxious. Wouldn’t you, if you were frustrated and angry with what you were feeling?
This seems like a normal response to me. It feels like a most natural response because of the frustration I am already feeling, that I don’t know how to manage.
The thing with children is that they are learning how to manage their emotions. What they are, what they mean, and then how to react to them. Well, no, maybe they know how to react to them and that is to openly express them.
It is us who isn’t comfortable with this happening and so we try to shut down their natural response by telling them it will be okay or trying to distract them.
Why they shut down
Shutting down is the normal response to overwhelm. You know yourself that when you feel overwhelmed by what’s going on, what you do is shut down. Things become too much and you don’t want to interact with other people. You simply want to be with yourself and what’s going on for you.
Now in the case of an anxious child, what is going on is an inner panic, fear, or frustration and perhaps they don’t know how to express that, or tell you what’s happening. So, they shut down. It feels like the safest thing for them to do, in that moment.
Why they rage
Then in shutting down from the outside world they get in touch with their pent up emotions and the best way to express that is outwards, which is where the rage comes in.
Rage is strong frustration and anger. From my experience when we are angry, we are turning outwards the emotion that we are feeling inside. That’s the only way we know how to protect ourselves, in that moment.
So, it’s the most natural and safest way for us to be self protective.
We don’t like what we see
As a parent though, we look at this happening and we don’t think it’s okay. Either because we are unhappy with them expressing such vehement rage, or because we feel very uncomfortable experiencing it ourselves, believing that it is targeted at us.
Or worse still if it happens out in the public forum, that people will think we are a bad parent.
We might feel that don’t want them to be hurting so much. Their pain is our pain and we don’t know how to shift it or change it because in our own life we gained no knowledge of how to manage our own emotions.
We also don’t want to have to experience their reaction. Again, this happens because we are unsure ourselves of what to do, how to manage the emotions that are openly being expressed.
How to support a shut down raging child
Step 1 – Let them express their anger. Don’t try and stop it. You could say “I hear that you are really angry right now” or “I see that you are really angry right now.” Acknowledge how they are feeling.
Step 2 – When they have expressed their anger and calmed a little, you might want to ask them what they are frustrated about? They may or may not be able to tell you.
Step 3 – Slow down and notice for yourself what they were talking about or doing before they shut down and fell into rage. Notice if there is something they said or did that might show you what they might be frustrated or anxious about. Remember anxiety comes from a feeling of too many emotions occurring at the one time.
Step 4 – Connect with them physically. That may be holding their hand or asking them if they would like a hug. Ask first. They might not be ready for you to touch them, and that’s okay. If this is the case you could tell them that a hug is waiting for them when they’re ready.
Above all else this is about letting the child take the time they need to express their emotion and find calm again. Don’t shut them down. Don’t rush them.