"How can I reach this angry child?"

by John Borgstedt

As a social worker or child advocate, I’m sure you are working with children and teens that are extremely angry. They are angry at society in general, not just the people who have hurt them so badly.  Unfortunately, anger and outburst are an outgrowth of the rejection and loss we felt deep inside.  I say we because I was one of those children who lived a violent life through young adulthood because of the emotional and physical damage that was cast upon me from a very young age.  Many children are like I was -- they act out and self- destruct to the point that staying in trouble with authority figures becomes a way of life.  

So you’ve probably asked yourself many times, “How can I reach this child? How do I deal with their anger?” First of all, listen to them. Don’t lecture or scold if you’re trying to make a connection. Really listen to them and try to hear what they’re saying underneath the words they are using.  And never say you understand their pain unless you’ve walked in their shoes and you know firsthand what they are experiencing. Kids read this as patronizing and will turn you off.  Of course you have experienced situations in your own life that have left you feeling angry and possibly bitter. It may help the child for you to explain one of your own situations and how it made you feel and how you dealt with it.  Your actions and words will let them know you have an understanding of how they feel.  Just don’t say that directly.  Your past experience will allow the kids to see that there are other avenues of dealing with anger and frustration. They need to know that everyone has these feelings at some time and everyone has been let down by others.  They need to understand that we are all thrown curve balls but it’s how we handle them that make us a better person. They need encouragement that life can improve and they can feel better.

 By sharing your personal experiences with them, it shows that you care and want to help them see change in their own life.  Remember, it’s the small things that we do today that will make the biggest change tomorrow – even though we may not ever see the ripple effect.

 Thank you to all the advocates and social workers.  Keep up the good work. You are doing an amazing job.