The Blended Family and Anger Management
Always showing her behind
Step Parenting means Anger Management
Statics say that more than half of marriages end in divorce in this country (US). With that said, the possibilities of second chance marriages is on the rise and that means step parenting. Lots of stepparenting. If you aren't one, you probably know one personally or even have one in your family. All over the country, unsuspecting moms and dads are being presented with problems and issues they never anticipated from their children and stepchildren. Why is step parenting so hard?
Dealing with Loss
You need to take into consideration that divorce means there was a loss and the child is sometimes still dealing with it even years later. Either through divorce or death, there had to be a loss for a stepparent to even come into the picture. This means that there are grieving children who are angry and have few healthy ways to express that grief. Add to that a virtual stranger (step mom or dad) and it is a formula for disaster, or at least a Mount Vesuvius eruption. When the children act out, it is very hard for the poor stepparent to do anything but take it or power down on the kids. Powering down adds to the no-win dilemma. No matter what we do we stepparents are in the doghouse, or the witch’s candy house, depending on how you look at it.
Angry Children out of Control
I think a major fact is the fact that they are children. First, children do know how to react to grief. They can have a good day, even a good week where they are happy, but then remember that they miss the absent mom or dad, and then feel guilty for feeling happy.
Second, there just aren’t any avenues for a child to express grief and anger. They don’t have the autonomy to express how they feel. They usually don’t want to hurt the present parent but they are still angry. Holding it in doesn’t help so eventually it all blows up and they act out.
How do you handle your own angry feelings?
One more straw
Third, they still have regular kid things to do and try to focus on: school, homework, sibling rivalry, peer pressure, chores, etc. The grief and anger just add a volatile acid to the mix and that’s never good.
Happy vs. Sad
Fourth, they are presented with a stepparent, a person they never asked for or wanted, to make the present parent happy. The happiness of the parent only makes their anger and grief more punctuated. I can really understand why someone’s happiness makes my sadness more pronounced, so it is not surprise that a child feels that too.
Fifth, add to all this that often the child has been divided between two households during the year, often during each week. They have two separate and different sets of chores, rules, bedtimes, and of course, anger issues. How can they hope but be anything but schizophrenic in the face of that.
One of the Symptoms of Schizophrenia is a lack of normal conduct as compared to healthy individuals. This could include having no natural emotions, uninterested in their surroundings, lacking enthusiasm, and difficulties carrying on a conversation.
Dealing with Anger
How do you handle an angry child?
An angry child is more than just an unpleasant experience! I know. They can get violent, sullen, holding the grudge or attitude for days and weeks, destructive to their siblings, peers and even lash out at nearby adults… look out! The most common cause of anger in a child is when they don’t get what they want. Either what they want was taken away or what they want they cannot have. Both of those happen in the divorce and blended family situation.
How do you handle an angry child? Yelling, time-out, punishment, banishment? How you handle the anger and calm the child will make the difference between finding out the cause to solving the problem and causing more destruction and damage. I have always felt that telling a child not to be angry is useless. They feel what they feel. Telling the child that anger is “bad” or “wrong” is futile too. We all have anger from time to time. The key is how to express that anger. What to do with it when you have it.
When there is no outlet for them to express the anger, dialog, or show how they feel, anger can turn inward. The child will find ways of letting it out that are not so safe or healthy. They will have feelings of hurting other, revenge, manipulation and hostile behavior. This is how bullies are made.
Model Good Behavior
I think one of the hardest methods of dealing with your child or stepchild’s anger is to look in the mirror. How do YOU handle anger. Remember your child has been watching you all his or her life. And if the child has been through a divorce, then so have you. What do you do when you are angry at the absent spouse? To require your child or stepchild to behave in a healthy manner when they feel anger, you must first model it.
This hit home for me when I realized that I didn’t act too well toward my children’s father on the phone. I often yelled at him. They didn’t hear his side of it but they sure saw and heard my side. It was no wonder when my oldest daughter began yelling out her anger toward her siblings, just as I had done. Once I cleaned up my act, I could then turn my attention to helping her get over hers.
My first plan of attack was to make ways that my children could express their anger in healthy ways.
The Mad Family
Possible Healthy Expressions
When dealing with an angry child, it is first helpful to separate the child from the anger cause. He or she is, after all, a child and doesn’t know what to do with these feelings. Acting out is all they can think of. If you can talk to them and get them to voice their concerns and their anger triggers, it can help. However on the younger children, they sometimes can’t put into words what the real root cause is. They just know how they feel.
In my house we had an Anger Mat. I took a doormat and drew footprints on it with a permanent marker. The instructions are simple: When angry, place feet here, jump up and down until anger subsides. So instead of throwing things or hurtling mean words around, my angry child jumped up and down until she felt at least a little better and was able to put into constructive words what was bothering her.
Not everyone needs to pound or run or jump up and down. Sometimes a batch of cookies worked just as well. My girls and son were often cooking for therapy to get away from the others and just think. Plus the added calming effect of eating is added. I always felt that it also added an element of being functional and helpful to the family, i.e. cooking a meal or desert.
I love working in a garden for many reasons but beyond the fresh fruit and vegetables, working in the dirt is cathartic. Not only getting dirt under my fingernails but also because pulling weeds and hoeing rows makes me feel better. I often got my angry children into planting things with me. Many of them still garden now that they are grown and have families of their own. Pounding the ground and clawing at the ground hurts no one and actually helps get out angry energy.
Whenever they could, the girls would go out to the barn to pet the rabbits, chickens, ducks or dogs. I know not everyone can have animals in their backyard, but I can’t stress the value and calming influence on a child of petting an animal. Cats and dogs are extremely understanding and nurturing as well as calming influences. I owe a debt to all our pets for helping my children through some rough patches.
When the Anger Mat was in use or not available, we had a running course around the house. If weather permitted the angry child would run as fast as she or he could around the house until she felt better. Actually I think any exercise would have done the job, but running seems to have been the best therapy for my family.
We were a very creative family and usually had clay available for creating pottery. The best part of creating pots is that the clay needs to be pounded before you can begin. I would make this available when needed. A hunk of clay was given, aprons secured and the pounding and kneading began. Sometimes the clay was pounded so long it became dry but adding some water or starting over was a small price to pay for the therapy that the pounding did. They always felt better after the pounding and were actually able to create some awesome pots with it.
Some anger issues are beyond these simple helps. Sometimes there is no other recourse but to seek professional help for the anger and issues your child faces. If you need to get professional help for your child, don’t feel you have failed. There are times when we all need help to get past a deep seated issue.
There is help out there for the good stepparents to deal with those anger issues that all blended families have to face sooner or later. I hope there have been some suggestions here that could be of help to you and your family.