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Anger as a Weapon: When Your Child “Points the Gun” at You

by James Lehman, MSW
Anger as a Weapon: When Your Child “Points the Gun” at You

From young children to teens, James Lehman, MSW explains why your child is in trouble if he or she uses anger and acting out behavior to control others.

When children use anger to get what they want, it can feel for all the world like they’re pointing a loaded weapon at you. As a parent, you dread the ugly and sometimes violent emotional outbursts that come with this type of behavior. Before I discuss children who use anger as a weapon—or the way that I like to put it, as a problem solving technique—I want to caution people that once a child is using extreme anger, they’re in a lot of trouble. And by the way, I’m not talking about a two-year-old throwing a tantrum, I’m talking about a five-year-old throwing toys around the room or an eight-year-old hitting his sister or a twelve-year-old kicking holes in the wall. Once a child is at that level, there are some serious issues at stake, and you need to get them some help fast. There’s no way I can address every aspect of this problem in one article, but what I can do is explain a little bit more about what’s going through your child’s head, and the steps you need to take as a parent to change this pattern of behavior.

The message to you is, “If you upset me, bad things are going to happen.”

Let me explain to you why I think that your child is in trouble if they’re using anger to seek control. I believe that kids who act out this way haven’t developed the appropriate problem solving skills to deal with the stressors, emotions and situations they experience at their age level. Don’t forget, anger is a feeling, but anger is also a problem that has to be solved. When you’re angry and you’ve got all that chaotic energy inside of you, you have to learn what to do about it besides take it out on others. When you’re afraid, you have to learn what to do with that fear—that’s a problem you have to solve. Too many times feelings are looked at solely as feelings and not as problems for which your child needs to find a solution.

It’s also important to understand this: kids get a sense of power from acting out and they use that power to solve the problem instead of learning how to cope with life. These children don’t learn the mechanics of problem solving or how to deal with their feelings appropriately. And that’s an important and critical misstep, because it leaves them on one side of the cliff with no bridge to the next phase of life, the phase where they learn to negotiate, to get along with others, and to solve the problems that arise without losing control.

How Kids Use Anger to Control Their Environment
From the age of four, almost all of us learned how to solve our anger problems, and now we do it so easily and quickly that we don’t even realize that we’re solving them. We feel angry at our boss but we keep our mouth shut. Perhaps we jog after work, or we go to the gym. Or we watch a movie or read a book. We do things that enrich our lives to compensate for the stressors that we feel: We find a way to solve those problems.

Related: Afraid of your child’s anger?

But with kids who use anger to manipulate a situation, it’s a whole different story. They’ve learned to solve the problem of feeling uncomfortable by striking out at others. When they have a hard time, instead of dealing with their emotions, they strike out. And in the short term, that solves their problem—usually people back off. If their parents or teachers or caregivers don’t back off the first time, they back off the second or third or fifth or tenth time. Even if they just kicked a hole in your wall, they don’t even see it as their wall, they don’t care. To put it plainly, the child or the teenager has nothing to lose.

Once children learn how to use acting out, aggression, destructive behavior and verbal abuse—that whole family of behaviors—as a coping mechanism, as a skill to solve life’s problems, they are treading on dangerous territory. Because when they find that it works, they keep doing it. And the older they get, the more that technique becomes ingrained in them. And so by the time they’re older children or entering early adolescence, this is their main way of coping with anything that frustrates or upsets them.

Are Your Younger Child’s Meltdowns Giving him Control?
It’s simple: the more your young child succeeds at using anger and destructive behavior as a way to solve his problems—and the more you let him get away with doing that—the more entrenched that behavior is going to become.

Here’s what happens: Your child is faced with a situation that’s frustrating. He responds by losing control. As a parent, you see your child melting down. But if you look at the bigger picture, is he really losing control? Because here’s the thing: the next time you tell him he has to go clean his room, you’re going to remember the last explosion and you’re going to ask in a different way, or soften the request. If he explodes again, eventually you’ll clean his room yourself. So even though it looks like he’s losing control by melting down, in reality he’s getting more and more control over everybody in the house.

Related: Teach your child to be accountable for his behavior

The same thing happens at school. Even though these kids look like they’re losing control when they act out, in fact, they’re getting more control over the class because they wind up not having to do the work. Somewhere along the line the child learned that acting this way gave him an edge, and gave him some power—it gave him some control over the adults in his life. The expectations placed upon him were diminished, and the tolerance for inappropriate behavior was raised. In his very bright human mind, he realized that it worked. And so he tried it again, it worked again, and it worked again until it became a pattern.

When these kids lose control, in their mind, they’re in control. They’re getting back at you. They’re showing you that they’re not going to do what you ask of them. If not now, then maybe the next time you’re going to ignore their behavior and do it yourself. And that’s their goal. It’s a very difficult pattern to break as a parent and you may very well need guidance from a behavioral program or a behavioral specialist, even when your child is still young.

For Parents of Angry, Acting-out Teens
I think if teens are acting out and using anger to control you, they certainly have years of experience that says that this method works for them. They may behave themselves around their friends, or around the police. They have to behave themselves in public for the most part, and they tend to do so. But when they get home or are at school where this behavior works, they readily employ it.

So, what happens? You see these kids get moved through school. There are countless conferences with teachers and parents and school psychologists. But really, in the end, if the child is resolute, nothing changes. He goes to Special Ed classes where they tiptoe around him and he does easy work. They pat him on the head when he spells ten words right and tell him what a great guy he is. In short, they do everything they can to manage his behavior. And the school’s goal, by the way, is not to educate him at that point—it’s to manage his behavior. And that’s exactly what he wants. He wants to control the environment, control you through his behavior. He wants it to be your job to not upset him. The message to you is, “If you upset me, bad things are going to happen.”

Never lose sight of the fact that as a parent, your most important job is to teach your child how to learn to solve problems. Teens are miserable half the time because they’re dealing with some tremendous problems and at the same time, trying to learn how to manage life. They’re not children anymore and they’re not adults, but they are starting to have some adult expectations of responsibility—without the benefit of all the tools adults have. In fact, the only way they can get those tools is by learning how to manage situations. There’s a saying I like: “Action precedes understanding.” In other words, teenagers have to go through all of this stuff, and in the end, they’ll understand how it helped them.

But kids who avoid solving problems through intimidation, abuse, anger and acting out behavior don’t develop the skills to deal with life. Sadly, they wind up as young adults whose primary problem solving skill is to intimidate others and break things if they don’t get their way. The truth is, there’s no future in our world for adults like that. And they rarely grow up without encounters with the police, substance abuse, and criminal activity.

Related: Having a hard time getting through to your child?

For kids who learn how to solve problems through defiance, all they do is defy. And if you ask them why they did it, they’ll tell you it was your fault or somebody else’s fault. “I was wrong but you made me. You wouldn’t let me have the money. You wouldn’t let me stay up and watch TV. You wanted me to clean my room and not let me finish my game.” You, you, you. And these kids wind up feeling like a victim all the time, and you know, if you feel like a victim then the rules don’t apply to you. And so they strike out defiantly, and that becomes their main technique to solving problems. Who are these kids I'm speaking about? They’re the brooding teenagers who are angry all the time at home. They become teens who get involved with drugs and alcohol. They become teens who get involved with petty crime and the police. And you know, you’ll see them do antisocial things in the community. They’ll be destructive, knock down people’s mailboxes, or break into cars. And they get involved with all that because they actually see themselves as victims and therefore, somehow it’s different for them. But as a parent, you’ve got to really rigorously and strongly challenge that feeling and that way of thinking. For people who aren’t able to give up that victim identity, it becomes very hard to change.

Getting Control Back
I think the way that you get control back is to grit your teeth and be ready for a big fight. Start saying no, and mean it. Be prepared to lock up the video game in the trunk of your car. Be prepared to let your child scream in the store for 15 minutes. Be prepared to call the police. Be prepared to go through these things and be ready to do what it takes for your child to understand that this strategy, this problem solving skill of acting out, doesn’t work anymore. If you aren’t able to deal with this problem, you’re endangering yourself and you’re endangering your child. The behavior is going to escalate. Parents need to understand that and seek outside resources, have a backup plan, and be prepared to stand your ground.

I suggest you read as much as you can on the subject of managing kids with behavior problems. Find a behavior-oriented therapist. Work with the school and do whatever you can. Also, there are books available at the book store and programs available online that can help you get the skills you need. I developed The Total Transformation Program to help parents in this exact situation by giving them a plan, a practical way to grit their teeth, say no, mean it, and know what to do next. Because, if this problem doesn’t change in your child, in adulthood it becomes really terrible and sad. The terrible part is, of course, adults can’t solve their problems by acting out and exploding. They wind up in jail, they wind up fired, they wind up hopeless. And it’s sad because when the child becomes an adult, he really feels cheated by life. He doesn’t understand why he hasn’t made it and other kids have. And he really feels like a loser—in fact, these kids feel like losers for a great amount of their lives, because they know right from wrong. Many times after they act inappropriately they feel sad and confused. Deep down, they know what good behavior is and bad behavior is—they just can’t operationalize it when they’re upset.

So if you’re in this position with your child, you need to learn new problem solving skills. In essence, you have to develop special parenting skills for kids who have special needs. And you know, you can tell if your parenting skills are working or not if your kid’s out of control. And if that's the case, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent—far from it. You’re tolerating your child, you’re doing the best you can. What it means is that your child also needs to develop a new set of skills, and your child needs a parent with a level of skills that you don’t have yet.

The good news is you can get those skills that you need to teach your child how to manage his behavior. You can go online to find support. You can see a therapist who deals with behavioral problems and who can teach you techniques to deal with your child. Yes, action precedes understanding. And you can start taking actions now. Don’t be so intimidated by your child’s anger that you are afraid to take action and get the help you and your child need.


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

READER'S COMMENTS

This hit home in so many areas. Just last nite another outburst from my 8 year old son, what seems like a daily occurrence. In spite of therapy, medication, and consequences, he still wants everything his way and rebels with disrepect, cursing, and even hitting when we do something he doesn't like. Most of the time its when we take video games away for his misbehavior but sometimes he blows up for other reasons. The other nite it was because we wouldn't let him use the microwave oven for the first time w/o supervision. And, when he gets obsessed about things he doesn't let up. His father and I are as consistent as possible but therapy hasn't helped and we are at a loss for where to go next. His medication for ADHD is being adjusted but we see no impact on his impulsivity and aggressiveness. At school he has no behavioral problems but also has few friends. I've read the books about behavior, tried what's suggested but nothing has worked. He's constantly fighting with his older brother and us. He has no more respect for his father than me but. I see a future of a teen with even more of this behavior and it scares me.

Comment By : sassy50534

I know this kid exactly, I have one. I ordered my CD's and am praying they will help. They can't arrive fast enough I think.

Comment By : KB

Excellent article. I am dealing with an older teen that uses anger and acting out to deal with anything unpleasant. Wish I had understood this as a coping mechanism she uses. I may have been able to deal with it better when she was younger. I hope there is still a chance to help her.

Comment By : survivor mom

This article came at the right time. My 9 year old son tried using the "anger technique" just this morning to solve a problem. He whined, cried and told me I was mean because he wasn't getting the answer he wanted. Luckily, I have TT under my belt! I did not repond to the emotion, but focused on the behavior and let him know what the expectation was. I told him my answer would not change and that he needed to solve the problem for himself. I realized he needed to accept my answer and not use anger to try and get me to change my mind. It was hard because as Dr. Lehman says no parent wants to deal with this coming at you. I use a lot of self talk to remind myself that this is his problem to solve and that if I enable him I will be setting myself up for bigger troubles in the future. This does not happen frequently, but when it does I'm glad I have the tools to teach my son that he need to work through things on his own sometimes and use appropriate behavior to get his needs met.

Comment By : CalmMom

All that I read is so very true and very accurate.

Comment By : maggie

this article came at precisely the time i am unfortunate enough to be going through this particular issue with my 14yr old. Easy to give advice, HARD to put it into action!!!!! But i realize i need to get a handle on this problem NOW!!!!!!!!

Comment By : JOY

You've hit the nail on the head, so to speak! About a year ago my son was at a stage where he would be very destructive when he became angry, usually after my husband or I sent him to his room for disciplinary action. He would kick holes in his walls and throw things around in his room. We sought the help of a councellor, who told us it was just a phase and advised my son to count to ten when he felt angry. Not very helpful, to say the least. At the suggestion of my mom, we purchased the Transformation system.(and later, the consequences program) I am truly thankful for James Lehman and these programs! My son's behavior has done a complete turn around; he knows now that there will be consequences for his actions.(good or bad) And my husband and I have learned to implement disciplinary action calmly and effectively, without having to walk on eggshells. Thank you James Lehman!

Comment By : benmin

By the time we got our adopted sons from Russia, they were 10 and 14 yrs. old. Both were raised in mafia homes and learned the basic techniques of defiance, blackmail, torture, murder, and manipulation as problem solving skills. They enjoyed using them against us when we set reasonable boundaries. After executing a plot to attempt to put us in prison for felony injury to a child by using CPS, the school counselor, and the sherrif based on lies and self-mutilation, one ended up in a full lock-down youth home where he shall remain until 18. The oldest joined the Army to "defy" us because he didn't like all our rules! (go ahead...smile) Their goal was to get rid of us, get rid of little sister, and take over our estate and business. This is how the oldest chose to assert his independence at 18! I purchased the TT system and used the techniques as best I was able given the extreme nature of their issues. The 800 helpline was a Godsend and Carol helped me know that this was more than just a behavioral issue that we could handle. Both boys are diagnosed psychopaths and had intentions to kill us! Our daughter, 13 is also adopted from Russia. Since the chaos of having the boys in the home has passed, she is thriving! Using the TT techniques has really worked to teach her how to problem solve and use more positive ways to express herself and solve her problems. Her goal is to attend the Naval Academy and she is the kindest, most loving, well behaved child you could ever ask for. Having seen both ends of the spectrum, I can HIGHLY recommend this program to anyone who needs help teaching their child how to solve their problems and behave their way to success. And, thank you Carol for being there for me when I couldn't bear the stress. I will be forever grateful.

Comment By : Linda

Very timely. Not only do my children act that way at times, they have learned it from me. I was that child, and carried my poor problem-solving skills with me into adulthood. The one-minute lesson linked to in this newsletter was also very relevant. At least now my awareness is much better, and my responses are improving, with slowly improving results.

Comment By : sbrubinson

Excellent article!!! I've been dealing with anger issues with my 6 year old for the last four years. What I found interesting was after her "explosions" she was always so scared and resentful for her actions. When we talked about it later she would tell me that she didn't mean anything that she said or did. She said that it scares her when she acts like that but she didn't know how to make herself stop. She's been on medication and in therapy for about a year now and things are completely different. I stopped the meds for a few months last year to see how she would handle her anger and the behavior came back - it was different but still to the point that the risks associated with the quality of life she was experiencing outweighed the risks of the side effects of the meds. I always felt so alone when it came to parenting her. Everybody had their own unsolicited advice on what I was doing wrong. Many of who had never experienced what we were going through. But after reading so much information on this subject and seeing all of the responses so far, I know that there are many of us out there who deal with this every day.

Comment By : tgc

I have two of those kind of kids, too. One is 23 now and can't keep a job. And I think my brother is one, too. Been through counselors and cops in this town and neither one are much help. I NEVER hesitated to call the police, but do you sit on the kid til they get there?

Comment By : Wearysinglemom

I have read all your comments and we also have "one of these" children! We pussy foot around him, and try to take things away but he is so manipulative he tries to find loopholes in any punishment by saying he owns all his own games, he bought them so we can't take them away. If we try, he starts taking our stuff, coffee maker, t.v. etc. It is a true challenge. I am know trying to find a counsellor who won't take his attitued. The others have been far too nice. the police won't come unless I press charges and I am not there yet.

Comment By : Chris D. Alberta

I noticed a lot of "I"s in these article responses. That is, opposed to "we"s. I have been through some of this with an unco-operative husband who still uses his anger this way some times. It's a self-defeating circle. Professionals did not recommend seperation, for which I'm glad. But, then, I'm left with conflicting parental policies which hasn't really worked as well as I wish it had. When corrected by officials my husband complied for short times,then "forgets" or simply takes the "I don't care about the rules/agreements" line. Any comments?

Comment By : Feeling Defeated

I have an adult son who still has not learned to cope with his emotions. He is not physical but uses a lot of verbal abuse, yelling and blaming others. Whenever he's under any kind of pressure, he becomes very angry and abusive to those around him. Sometimes he seems to know that he's way out of line, and feels bad later, but by then the damage has been done. What can I do to help him? As he is an adult and not living at home, I feel helpless.

Comment By : Worried Mom

I have a 17 yr old that is like this...we stop asking him to do things because the resulting arguments are just not worth it. And he's been this way a long time...not just recently. About a month ago, my wife and I both just started to say no to stuff he wanted to do. See a girlfriend, go to a group function, etc. We stopped rewarding bad behavior. I have noticed significant changes. He still argues, but not as long. And, he is I think starting to recognize that when we say "no" it means no. That, and I think he is starting to realize that his behavior, his actions, are in his control...so don't blame us if you act out and then suffer the consequences. It's a difficult thing to do when you've spent so much time trying to keep peace by trying to change things so they will be acceptable...but my wife was right; nothing would be good enough for him to stop his behavior. So, we put the onus on him. We told him everything is in his control. Here's the rules, the expectations, the consequences. Now it's your decision, and we won't waver from what we have agreed to. So far, it seems to be working. As for the comment from Feeling Defeated, you have a lot of "I" statements in your entry as well. Seems like you are somewhat on your own on this journey, not with a child but with an adult. I know that separation isn't what you want from your writing. But, unless you make consequences and then stick to them, this will never change. It might not be too late for your husband, but if it is, don't make it too late for you. If you make agreements, get them in writing; if he breaks them, have firm consequences in waiting and stick to them. If that means the next time there is a violent outburst you leave, then leave. Like the author says, when you are dealing with a kid, you are both in danger. Right now, with a full grown adult, it seems that the damage is done on his side of it; seem that YOU are the one wh is in danger.

Comment By : something's working

I'm so fortunate that God led me to James and the TT 3 years ago. I had the beginnings of this type of behavior in two of my three children at the time, aged 9 and 10. Now at 13 and 12, I still have my challenges, but by engaging the TT program, it's getting less and less. It is painful and I can relate to all the posts from parents who cringe at the thought of an episode with their child. That being said, the only answer is you've got to go through it. Can't go around, over or under it. You've got to do the heavy lifting and go straight through it. Better days will follow, I promise. They have for me, and James Lehman, God Bless you!

Comment By : Janet

My dauther is almost 16 years old and this article was written about her. I am a Registered Nurse and use psych/social skills everyday with my patients, but when it's your own child its a different ball game. My child has become the "master manipulator" and uses anger and violence when she does not get her way. She blames everything on me, and my fiance'. She is highly intelligent and knows just how to get what she wants. I have been reading a lot of James Lehman's articles and have learned a lot. I just wanted to say I am taking a new approach at my parenting skills. The road is rocky already, because she has no tolerance for my change in behavior. I do hope that in the end with the help of a psychologist, her primary physician and her father, we will get her on the right track. Thank you for this article, it really hit home

Comment By : Lori, RN

This article helped me with my 24-year-old roommate (I am somewhat of a parent to my teenage sister and subscribe to the newsletter) who still uses these tactics in adulthood with everyone in her path. If only her parents had established clear espectations, as a child and teenage, for how to deal with her emotions and treat people with respect, things would be a whole lot better.

Comment By : Tara

I, just started the first lesson from the program. I believe a see results already. Looks very promising in these difficult times.

Comment By : joshi

As a special educator I see this type of behavior more often than not. The students bring this behavior to the classroom and then we have to deal with it on a daily basis. The child has had a long time to develop the skills of manipulation to get what they want and they are willing to try them on in class to see if it works. I tell my students from day 1 that if they don't fix the problem, I will and they won't like it. There is no excuse for poor behavior. The students think I am the meanest teacher, but I set firm limits like walls that are inflexible. Many times the students blame me for a bad day, when I tell them "Who is the one in trouble?" Over time the behaviors begin to extinguish. The students can be angry, it is what they choose to do with that anger that will/won't get them in trouble. I share these articles with my parents so they know how to cope with these behaviors. Thank you to Empowering Parents for the advice and support.

Comment By : Christopher B

I read this article and it had my daughters name written all over it. She is 14 years old and unfortunately I am a single mom and I do not follow through with things. I have started to change that through reading these articles and God does she hate it but I want her to be a productive member of society and not a burden to society. So pray for us and I will pray for you all also. Stay strong and stay positive.

Comment By : Tina

My 7-year old son has been on several different ADHD medications, and I can tell you that some of them caused him to be more aggressive. We are still dealing with the occasional outburst, which we dread, but it's getting better as we put out foot down and say no.

Comment By : Mark

These articles are really useful. I work in a detention facility with young offenders and I have a 14 year old with ADHD so I deal with difficult behaviors on a daily basis. The TT system has helped me alot at work and at home.

Comment By : LStefanizzi

I HAVE A 10 YEAR OLD THAT THIS ARTICLE IS BASED ON. HE IS VERY STUBBORN; WALKING AROUND WITH HIS LIP OUT, ARMS CROSSED, RESPONDING WITH "MMPH" ANYTIME I TRY TO TALK TO HIM. HE IS DESTRUCTIVE WHEN IN TROUBLE, WHETHER TO HIMSELF OR THINGS AROUND HIM. THIS ARTICLE HAS HELPED ME UNDERSTAND WHAT I SHOULD BE DOING, AND I REALIZE WHAT I HAVE BEEN DOING WRONG. MY FAMILY ALWAYS TELLS ME I NEED TO CONTROL HIM BEFORE HE GETS OUT OF HAND. IT'S EASIER SAID THAN DONE. I THOUGHT TIME WAS RUNNING OUT. THE INFO IN THIS ARTICLE IS VERY HELPFUL, AND I AM RELIEVED TO SEE I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE.

Comment By : N. Mulrooney

Wow! From comments received, looks like this single Mom is not alone in her situation. My son is the child everyone sees as an Angel. He even looks like one! The only person he dare act out with of course .. is lucky me. Now, that he is almost 13, it is a different story than carrying a young child and placing him in your arms. No more. Different technique. New learning curve ... I did not suffer " the terrible 2's" or anything of the sort. It was more like, after my dear Mommy passed away, over 1 1/2 years ago, I simply chose to no longer tolerate, thus enable my growing son, any longer. This morning, he began throwing little things at me. Flicking me, lightly with a scarf Muttering " I don't have to do anything I don't want to do", over and over. When you refer to "behaving like a victim" , I noted this quite a while ago. I have been working on showing my son his Power for a long time, now. By owning my Power, I felt this would help and work. Not so. You write how a parent;s most important job is to teach our child how deal effectively with a challenge or problem and deal with it, accordingly. Well, I felt I had given my son "critical life skills", especially as a homelearning Mom. Doesnto seem so. Inadvertendly, I have enabled my son. I also see my highest intentions and best efforts thwarted every time he 'gets his way' at the library, on the computer for hours, when I choose to not allow this unhealthy behaviour. Often, others will look at me as if I should do anything to keep peace. My massage therapist actually suggested a buy a t.v. to occupy him and keep him at home. Buy my son. No way. Interesting, you should mention on following through on what my rebellious son calls "threats". I did "call the police" and one of them saw exactly what he was doing and getting away with and wanted to take him into custody, for mischief. My son did not even respond or react. So sure of me was he. Or, does he simply not care? So tiring to even figure it all out. My child is entering into puberty. Yet, I feel he has huge anger issues, for good reason, without going into the story. I have mentioned this to a few 'experts' to no avail. I see various potential troubles on the horizon, with my son not communicating, as he once did. Refusing to show up for soccer. Staying up all night and not sleeping, before taking off on jaunts to the beach for 12-14 hrs, without water or adequate clothing. And, then he is so sweet, on the other hand. Which is what keeps me pacified on one hand. And, terrified for my son's safety, and often, my sanity, on the other ... Gratefully, Katherine

Comment By : Katherine

* To Helpless but Hopeful: This is a tough situation to be in. It is so difficult to change these behaviors once they have become the habitual way a person solves their problem, without bothering to learn any skills around managing strong feelings. I think when you're in a situation where there is active abuse in your home, you have no choice but to take strong, clear action. It is abuse when someone damages things in your home in anger. The intention is to intimidate you and get you to back down. You mentioned that this is an adult child who is 28 years old. You do have the option of not allowing another adult in your home who is abusive by telling them they must find another place to live. As an outsider, that seems like the best and most appropriate solution, particularly since you mention there are younger children in the home that are starting to emulate his behavior. If for some reason the 28 year old cannot leave right away, you must get help. What James Lehman would recommend is that you call the police, each and every time someone destroys property and is abusive in your home. Don’t be concerned that your ex-husband might criticize you for this. It is great when you can back each other up, but you certainly can use the Total Transformation techniques without your ex-husband's approval. Just tell your children, “These are the rules in my house. Your father may have different rules in his.” You owe it to yourself, and as you said, to your younger children, to stop the abuse in your home and make it a safe place to live. As James says, “Grit your teeth and get ready for a fight.” This won’t be easy, but it’s vitally important. Stop the abuse in your home by calling the police each and every time your adult child or other children destroy property in anger. Teach your children that this strategy of acting out when they are upset will not longer work or be tolerated in your home. Reach out for community supports in your area if you can. Stay strong and good luck.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Chronic hypoglycemia plays a very important role in how I manage my anger episodes. If I do not manage it properly I can expect to become overwhelmed by stresses in my life and have a meltdown. In nearly 100% of my anger episodes, my blood sugar has been too low. My ability to tolerate frustration is significantly decreased if my blood sugar is too low and an anger episode is usually right around the corner with the right trigger. Is it possible that chronic hypoglycemia could be a factor in some of these children's behaviors? I was born with the disorder and can remember way back in my childhood being constantly hungry and constantly frustrated and angry. I was raised on all the usual candy bars, chips and soda pop that kids are today. It's what kids ate for snacks back then before anyone really understood the danger. Little has really changed since the 1950's, folks. The diets that typify American families and the non-food sweets, soft drinks, caffeinated drinks, fast food - diets high in carbs that parents are giving their children promote metabolic problems, with chronically low and high blood sugar a not uncommon outcome. There is research showing hypoglycemia as a factor in the ADHD of a certain percentage of individuals. It is definitely a factor in my mental chaos and my ability to control my mouth and my anger. A 5 or 6 hour Glucose Tolerance Test has probably never been done to ferret out hypoglycemia as a possible culprit in a child's aberrant behavior and mental chaos. It is done mainly if diabetes is suspected.

Comment By : Paxrail

For "Feeling Defeated," who is apparently married to a 5 year old adult male: I too am married to a 5 year old controlling bully. I have set boundaries and vociferously stood by them and it has helped me to gain better control over my life, but my husband is still a controlling bully, although since he quit drinking, he is calmer, more covert in the verbal abuse. However, the problem with applying these TT principles to an adult is that an adult has long since developed his own brand of coping mechanisms from his own goofed up childhood and is more or less beyond being able to be molded. A child still has a chance of being corrected and molded by good parenting but an adult is long since equipped with an ability to make decisions, however bad, and fend for himself. A child can't really fend for himself in the world but an adult is on his own. Therefore, an adult has to see that he is is own worst enemy first, embrace and own it, then want to change, then he has to set out to CHANGE HIMSELF. He must get the help to MOLD HIMSELF, whereas the child must be helped along and molded by loving adults. I can't change my husband, all I can do is change myself and set good boundaries of respect that protect ME. He will either change for the better or he won't. Read the books The Verbally Abusive Relationship and Boundaries in Marriage.

Comment By : Paxrail

our 8 y.o. has these issues. when it is just him and i, very rarely do the outbursts occur. they are more frequent when both parents are at home. spitting, holes in walls, toys thrown, hitting, etc. my wife will say he's "..a high functioning autistic boy.." the frustration is that she will get in the way of him being disciplined by me. she will complain that i'm not handling it but when i do handle it, it's wrong, and then have the nerve to tell me that i let him get away with it. i have begun to relearn how to deal w/his outbursts by calmly telling him that his behavior is not acceptable and you need to go sit down. he does not hit me when she is not at home. all of the children use the 'mommy bear' who will chew daddy up if we cry to her, at which she begins to spin out of control herself. her verbal actions have taught the younger two boys to blame 'daddy did it..' before she even asks me what had occured. i work overtime in order for my wife to stay at home to raise the children, but yet have that tossed into my face that 'you're not at home enough and you don't know what is going on around here...!' definitely not fair.

Comment By : tony

As the mother of a 22 yr. old who trashed the contents of my purse along with my and husband's work bags along with other things, all over our bedroom because I had misplaced the keys to his car, words cannot express the comfort I found in this article. It reassured me that there is something awry with my son's behavior and that I am not paraniod about being afraid of it being out of control. Thanks to Empowering Parents, I am Not As Afraid, I just wish I could convince my husband that we all need help in solving this probhlem. My 21 year old daughter has moved out. I planning follow suit, wish my husband would realize we need help in solving this issue.

Comment By : Reached my limit a long time ago

this fits my 18yr old to T. Right now he is living w/another family and follows their rules but cdn't follow ours. It was hwaertbreaking to finally admit je was out of control, but this is best 4 all. I am grateful for the strength the TT brought into my life/ I will be erternally grateful on loads of levels. I didn't have to suffer in silence all this time. ep

Comment By : ep

You hit this one spot on. Our son was never a behavior problem-in fact just the opposite. It wasn't till high school where some of his friends influenced negative behavior (not to mention the music they listen to)and we went down hill from there. Over the last few weeks, we have made it clear that we will not tolerate the outbursts, intimidation and verbal abuse when he doesnt get his way (car, curfew etc) Today, after coming home from church we had another explosion and were tested to the limit. We finally decided enough was enough. After a verbal tongue lashing, abusive language and getting physical with his father, we called the police. Our son either has to agree to get help (he refuses to go-even after making 2 appointments)or he is out of here. we did not press charges this time but the police made it clear he is not to come to the house with out calling them or us first. He is supposed to come home tomorrow to re-establish ground rules and the first one is agreeing to get help. The up and down of this is exhausting and heartbreaking-he's basically a good kid, honors classes (but may not graduate) and a good heart when at his best. We are just lost, but we love im unconditionally and will fight for him however long it takes.

Comment By : Exhausted

tonight my almost 13 year old daughter called me a jerk, told her father to shut up, and told us she hates us and wishes we would die.This was in response to me canceling her horse back riding lesson because she rang up a 300 dollar bill on her cell phone. I took her cell phone and her i pod and told her to go to bed to which she replied "make me." I truly do not know how to respond to her when she gets like this. She can be such a considerate, normal and even tempered kid so much of the time. does well in school. teachers like her, but when she is disciplined by me or her father she freaks. I did not scream at her, i merely told her that because of the phone bill she rang up, I could not afford her riding lesson. any suggestions?

Comment By : Ellen

* Dear Ellen: It's upsetting when our kids become this angry at us, and I think it’s also pretty hard on the family. I hear two behaviors you are concerned about in your remarks. Your daughter ran up a $300 bill, and your daughter used name-calling and inappropriate language when she got mad at you. One of the program ideas is for us as parents to control our own emotions when we discuss behavior concerns and consequences. We do this in a effort to help our children control theirs. We also should demonstrate how to "disconnect" when things start to escalate. If our children become too angry, we should use the coaching role to say, “You need to find a way to calm yourself down.” Then disconnect —- stop arguing with them, even if they want to keep it going. Know that it does not help them to calm down if we try to force them to change their feelings by taking away privileges. Unfortunately, that usually just gets them more upset, and has the opposite effect. Rather, your goal is to keep the situation under control. James Lehman recommends that you have a conversation later on that day, when things are calm. You might say, “We need to talk about when you used name-calling when your Dad and I brought up the $300 bill. When you become that upset, you need to disconnect, take a break, and do something to calm yourself down. If you don’t try to calm yourself, and you use abusive language, there will be a consequence. Your Dad and I decided that you lose cell phone privileges this evening. Try to do a better job of this next time you’re upset.” If your child needs some help with calming skills, such as taking deep breaths, going to her room to listen to music, etc., this would also be a good time to talk about what she could do differently the next time she becomes angry.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Dear Exhausted: With such a sudden change in behavior you may want to have him tested for drugs first.

Comment By : sully09

Man, excellent article!! It's like it was written for my 5 year old son. It's become quite depressing for my wife and I to come home to our son, because almost daily we confront some request that if not met, will ignite an angry fit that will go on sometimes through dinner time (a challenge in itself). We can tell he's usually tired from school and we try to get him fed as soon as possible to curb the grouchiness. We send him to the bathroom for 5 minutes at a time for his outbursts and add a minute each time he yells a bad word or comes out. Sometimes I have to go stand by the door and physically keep him from leaving, but it does seem to get him back to a somewhat rational level.

Comment By : BP

I have a 16 year old son who very much uses anger as a manipulative tool. His father and I are in the process of getting a divorce and his anger toward his father and violence that he directs at his father is increasing so much that his father is afraid of him. His father is cheating on me and this is the second time. My son has been a witness to both affairs. But now my son is starting to direct his anger at me also. Exspecially when I tell him to do things he dosen't want to. What can I do to allow him to be angry but not violent?

Comment By : CookieMom

* Cookiemom, Inevitably divorce is an event that is disruptive to all members of the family and it can be a long process for everyone to readjust. Divorce simply draws out many fears for the child involved because so many things are changing and they don’t know what things will be like; yet, despite your son’s anger and pain, you want to make it clear that there’s no excuse for abuse and hold him accountable for his behavior. It’s so important to sit down with him and discuss what he can do when he’s feeling so angry instead of being abusive or violent. If the violence is a frequent and persistent problem, you may find it helpful to have some local support in place like family counseling. If your son’s behavior has escalated to the point where people are unsafe, we would recommend calling the police. I’m going to include a couple of articles that will address how to promote structure even during a turbulent time like divorce and how to manage violent behavior.

Comment By : Tina Wakefield, Parental Support Line Advisor

my grandson is almost 7 and used anger techniques to get his way with me but his parents do not see it is a problem, he also uses 'trickery' as he calls it, he revels in tricking ppl into doing things he wants. His parents do not see a problem here. I said I would not keep him if he does not mind and the world has stopped, his parents use trickery and manipulation on me to get what they want. is there any hope here?

Comment By : surely

* Dear ‘surely’: One thing you could say for sure about James Lehman is that he believed there is reason to hope for positive changes. You certainly have the right to decline to “baby sit” a child. If you choose to no longer take care of him without the parents there, let the parents know what you are comfortable doing; such as where you would like to visit with your grandson and for how long. It is worth trying to find a compromise in this situation so that you can comfortably enjoy your children and grandchildren. Understand that your child may have different ideas than you do on how to raise your grandson. Try to start a discussion around this topic by talking about where you agree. Beginning with agreements makes it easier to then examine where you disagree and more likely you will find ways to work together and to compromise. You might print out this article to share with your child and say, “I think I see some of these characteristics in [grandson]. If after reading this, you do too, let me know how I can help you address this behavior when I’m looking after [grandson].” We wish your family the best as you work through this together.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

im haveing the same problem but its my step daughter... shes going to be 7 this summer but she is always hitting me or screaming at me... she blames me when she trips over her own two feet n gets hurt... she is constintly mouthing off to me... but living with her grandparents makes it very hard for me to get a word in at all... i dont kno what i should do... she doesnt listen to me at all unless it is just me and her and my 18 month old baby... she throws a fit if anyone tells her no or if she has to wait 3 minutes to get what she asked for... shes really good in school so thats why it confuses me when she acts like this at home... its like its her way or no way... please help me...

Comment By : dani

* Hi Dani. It sounds like you’re in a really tough situation. Whenever you have multiple adults in one home, it can get really confusing for a child as to who’s an authority figure and who is not. The fact that she does listen to you when you are one on one is a very positive thing—this tells me that she does see you as an authority, yet perhaps not as much as her grandparents, and that makes sense. James does say to let the biological caregivers take the lead in blended family situations. It might be most effective for you to focus on not giving your stepdaughter’s behavior a lot of power. For example, you might decide to simply walk away when she is mouthing off to you or blaming you for something you clearly didn’t do. Here is an article that will give you some more ideas on how to handle some of her challenging behavior: Managing the Meltdown. Good luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have this idea that if I tell my adult son that there may be some physical reasons like high blood pressure or low blood sugar that are causing his violent angry outbursts we can talk about ways to help him. I'm trying to deal with this reasonably but I'm still scared. Am I kidding myself? Should I just walk away?

Comment By : reasonable

* To “reasonable”: You make a great point about possible reasons for your son’s violent angry outbursts. There can be a physical origin to some behaviors. We would suggest, however, not trying to have this conversation with him during one of those outbursts. In that moment, we would suggest disengaging and walking away, especially if he is acting out in a way that frightens you. It’s important to keep your safety in mind and it’s not going to be possible to reason or rationalize with him while he is in an escalated state. During a calm moment, it may be helpful to suggest he check in with his physician to rule out any possible physiological causes for his behavior. It’s understandable that as a parent you would be concerned with your son’s health. Something to keep in mind, though, is that as an adult, it would be his choice whether or not he chooses to follow up these concerns with his doctor. I hope this has been helpful. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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Related keywords:

Angry Child, Acting Out, Anger and Defiance, Anger Management, Abusive Behavior, Verbal Abuse, Defiant Behavior, Defiant Children, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Temper Tantrums

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