Temper, Temper

Temper, Temper
Question: 
What do I do when my five-year-old gets angry? He becomes furious and aggressive when he doesn’t get what he wants. His face turns red and he shakes his little fist at us! He tells us he’s going to burn down the house (with us in it!) Does he need to see a specialist? Will this pass? What are we doing wrong?

Answer:
Every child gets angry, or at least frustrated, when he doesn’t get what he wants – and most adults do too. The only question is - how the feeling is dealt with, and that changes with each stage of life.
 
Very young children are generally unable to control their feelings of frustration and anger. They express them immediately, loudly, and usually dramatically. 
 
As they become older, however, children slowly learn to develop self-control. They might still feel just as angry and frustrated as they did when they were younger, but they have usually learned by age five to exert some control over their behavioral response to the feelings.
 
That’s not to say they don’t lose their temper, however. A normal five year-old will still be brash and aggressive, and can even be violently emotional at times. Don’t be surprised if "Mommy’s to blame" for most of the problems either! 
 
However, this is also the age where a little boy mimics attachment and separation behaviors that he sees modeled by his parents and other adults around him. If a new baby has just entered the family, your five year-old might insist this is "his" baby. He might tell you that he is going to "marry Mommy" when he grows up. He might also ask for a baby doll – and yet, he will also turn anything else into a projectile weapon which he might then point at anyone.
 
All of this is normal.
 
Little boys, as do little girls, wrestle with their transformation from infancy to toddlers to preschoolers and then to growing children. While doing so, they are also struggling with their attachment to their parents, both with the parent of the opposite gender as well as the "competing" parent of the same gender, who they both admire and yet with whom they also feel a sense of rivalry.
 
Ultimately, your young man will shake his little fist in anger, but will most likely want to grow up to be like his father, even if he expresses anger at him.
 
However, you might want to find out exactly what your little boy is so very angry about, that he feels he has to "burn the house down" with all of the family in it.
 
Many different things can set off anger in a small child, even extreme anger, but it is unusual for such anger to last for very long.  It is also really important to pay attention when a child talks about fire, because occasionally their impulsivity gets the better of them and they actually do hunt down a box of matches and light a blaze.
 
This would be stepping outside the range of  "normal", and is the point at which you would be well advised to seek professional help. Under those circumstances, a child therapist can help you teach your child healthy, appropriate ways to express his anger and his frustration.
 
In the vast majority of cases, the "angry young man" becomes a sterling young scholar who will someday chuckle when his own little boy shakes his fist at Mommy in a rage about something.
 
Rare indeed is anger in a five-year-old that would merit more than the normal concern any parent would devote to such behavior. Wise is the parent who knows to be on the lookout for it anyway.

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