When working with families who have complex needs, especially experience of domestic violence and abuse, I am often told by the parent, family, friends, teachers, social workers and sometimes the child, that they are 'angry'. This is used as a blanket term to describe their general behaviour which may consist of screaming, breaking things, swearing, shouting, threatening, hurting others, hurting themselves, storming off and throwing things.
Well, you may be thinking, that does sound pretty angry behaviour so what's the problem? Telling a child they are angry, especially those who have lived around domestic violence and abuse is never helpful. It gives the child a label, they become known as that 'angry child' and even worse come to know themselves as angry. Labels are never helpful as they restrict and define and that is the last thing a child needs to carry through life with them. Their experiences of domestic violence and abuse have already served to restrict and define them so they don't need anything else.
I encourage everyone involved with the child to ditch the word angry from their vocabulary and to look beyond the presenting behaviours. Children who have lived in unpredictable and frightening conditions will have been shaped by these and will have adapted behaviours to cope but will not have developed an ability to understand their own and others emotions, they certainly won't be able to talk about them but will know they are 'angry' as they have heard it so often.
The most important thing is to encourage a child to think is that maybe they kicked the door because they were feeling frustrated, confused, annoyed, jealous or just had too many feelings going on at that moment. Being clear that it's not OK to kick things but working out what led up to it in terms of feelings can help avoid it some time in the future. When someone takes our parking space on a rainy day and we have to park miles away from the shop and will get soaked now we don't just have just one feeling about this. Most likely we do feel some rage, upset, frustrated, hurt, depressed etc., if we win the lottery we will maybe feel happy, overwhelmed, excited, scared, confused etc. so never just one feeling.
Broadening a child's emotional vocabulary is essential, especially as those who live through trauma, generally have a very limited pool of emotions they can identify and talk about so that is our number one task, always. If we keep telling a child they are 'angry' then that is what they will be, perpetrators of violence say they act because they are 'angry' or were made angry by someone or something so then it is not their fault. Anger is an emotion like any other and it is important to explore it with children as no emotions last but it must not define a child as they may then grow into an 'angry' adult and this can become the excuse for hurting others and we all know where that leads.
Children do not need to be defined by their behaviour, ever.