I didn't get into this parenting gig thinking I would be dealing with an angry kid. But there are so many things (like, all of them) that we don't expect when we become parents. That's why the shame and unsolicited advice make everything worse. I'm already asking myself what I'm doing wrong, so I don't need a stranger to do it, too. If you're like me, and you love your angry child but hate the advice, you probably know all about the things parents of "angry" kids are tired of hearing.
It took me a while to say this without feeling like I was betraying my little bean. My first child came out of my womb angry, though. They (my child uses gender neutral pronouns) had birth trauma subsequent to meconium aspiration, and were shoved into a too bright, too loud world with a fragile nervous system primed for dysregulation. My partner and I had no idea what the heck to do with a wailing, sleepless, disgruntled little newborn and, even though first children are designed to withstand first time parents, it was hard AF for them.
Did this make them angry? I don't know. Did my temperament as an "angry" teenager make them angry, or my partner's sometimes-grumpy disposition? Who knows. Maybe? What I do know, however, is that parents need support instead of judgment. So please, when faced with the parent of an "angry" kid, please don't say the following things. You have no idea how tired we are of hearing them.
"Wow, They Sure Have A Lot Of Energy!"
If you need to say something about my kid being angry, can you at least be honest? There's too much judgment in this statement, honestly, so it's incredibly hard to read. As a parent I have enough kid-decoding to do to worry about decoding adult comments, too.
Are the people who say this trying to be kind? Are they being snarky assholes? What's the motivation here? I just can't expend the emotional energy necessary to figure out your intentions when I'm trying to manage my kid.
"They'll Sleep Well Tonight!"
I have nothing snarky to say about this one. I hear it all the time about my "angry" kid. It's never been true and, if I'm being completely candid, I wish it could be. I'd love to sleep. I guess with two (formerly) insomniac parents, my kids were bound to have sleep trouble. Sigh.
"You Need To Set Some Boundaries"
My child is autistic. Our whole world is composed of boundaries and structure. I'm so tired of hearing from people who think they know my kid better than me in the five minutes they see them.
"This Child Needs Discipline!"
This has got to be one of the biggest pet peeves. When someone claims an "angry" kid needs a "talking to," do they really think the parents literally do not discipline their child? Do they really not think that temperament, or any other number of things, could be playing a role in the child's anger?
If you truly care about the child, how about providing an ear to listen and some support to the parent? If their child is going through a rough time, the whole family could probably use some non-shaming support.
"What Have They Got To Be Angry About?"
If this were an honest question, dear reader, maybe I wouldn't have such a strong negative reaction to it. It's wonderful when people truly care about my child's wellbeing and want to know how best to help and connect with them. It's just that, well, this is rarely an honest, genuine question. It's usually said with an air of dismissive authority, as if my child's feelings are unimportant and whatever they're feeling couldn't possibly warrant an angry response.
I've got news for all people everywhere: just like adults, kids have big feelings and bad days.
"Something Bad Must've Happened To Them"
That's true. Anger in children can be a sign of trauma. It can also be an indicator that the child is frustrated and having a difficult time communicating their needs. This is really common for my kid, especially when they try to express their needs in a way that the majority-allistic (non-autistic) community around them understands.
"No One Is That Angry For No Reason"
Have you ever known someone on the Autism Spectrum? Not everyone is angry, but it's also true that autistic people can express themselves differently than allistic (non-autistic) people. Sometimes the way autistic individuals express themselves can be read as "anger" to allistic individuals, when really they're just emphatic or have different affect.
So if you're tempted to say this, maybe try thinking about what it would be like to constantly be expected to act like an allistic person, adhering to all the social norms you don’t understand even when you’re overwhelmed. Imagine being bombarded with sensory information that is too loud, too bright, too tight, and too stimulating to figure out what everyone expects you to be focusing on. You’d likely be angry, too. I know I would.
"Spare The Rod, Spoil The Child"
Add a "Tsk, tsk" on the end of this one, just for good measure. Seriously, you guys?! Beating my angry child will not make them less angry. In fact, I feel pretty confident that it would make them more angry. Think before you speak. Even if your grandma used to say it and you meant no harm: don't say this. Don't advocate for child abuse.
Have you ever noticed when people tell your angry child to calm down they're usually yelling? Yeah, me, too.
We know that limbic resonance is helpful with all humans and especially kids. If I want my child to calm down, it's best to calm myself down first and interact with them in the way I want them to interact with me. Anything else (like yelling "Calm down!") is just feeding the fire.
When has this ever helped a situation? Like, ever?
Honestly, dear reader, the only people whose opinions about my kid's anger I'm interested in are my kid's treatment team and other parents with angry or autistic kids. If you don't fall into one of those categories, I kindly ask that you save your comments, and offer to babysit once in a while, so I can come back to the monumentally exhausting and rewarding task of parenting with a clear head. Thanks.