One of my regular routines as a foster parent included writing up incident reports.
We had a lot of incidents, so there was a lot to document.
After a while, some of the incidents became so frequent and similar that I was able to group them. Sometimes. Sometimes they’d escalate further and it required more words because something got destroyed, someone got hurt, or the angry outburst was more significant in some way.
With one child, I started making tick marks to mark down the number of FUBs through the day, the length of each, and their severity. A FUB included a verbal rampage of “F U you stupid B” towards me or my nanny.
There was a lot of anger in this young child.
Clearly, a lot of hurt too.
I finally realized something crucial; the ways I tried to manage behavior with my kids in the past weren’t going to work here. It became more apparent that I needed to look to the heart if I wanted to impact their ability to live respectfully. Let alone, to heal.
Too bad I hadn’t learned this lesson before. Foster kids aren’t the only ones who deal with anger or trauma.
Anger is a sign that something is wrong, that someone has been wronged, or both.
It took me a long time to look beyond the effect of anger to see the reason for it. Not doing so caused extra tension in me and our kids.
It’s hard to see the damage within a person when you’re focused on the damage coming out of them. But by seeing differently, we can also love differently.
When we started fostering, we had no idea what we were getting into. Our decision to move to 156 acres owned by a foster agency, and take in large sibling groups, happened in a quick series of events.
Within two months we’d moved into a large home. Five days later we received our first five children.
What happens when everything in your world gets turned upside down? When suddenly you face challenges in rapid succession or experience overwhelming circumstances?
Fight, flight, or freeze kick in. It’s the brain’s way of handling too much input.
Trauma affects most of us at varying levels. I’ve learned there are big traumas and small traumas, and they all impact our body, brain, and soul.
Overwhelm on Overdrive
With so much going on physically and emotionally, my whole system went into overdrive.
The children came with their own array of strong emotions and it took months before I could find a rhythm that felt survivable. I’m not sure it ever felt manageable, but that’s a whole other story.
External behaviors kept me in a hypervigilent state which later fueled signs of PTSD. This child had lived with hypervigilence as well. They showed signs of trauma which impacted their ability to think rationally or receive soothing when triggered.
What this young child needed was something I found hard to give in the beginning. Fear took over and I just wanted things to calm down so I could be a decent mom.
Eventually, I was the one with angry outbursts triggered by heaps of pain. I wanted others to see beyond my reactions too.
Not only was it hard to give, I didn’t know what to do.
Shifted Vision for Settled Hearts
What I did know was that my parenting paradigm had to change. I had to learn new ways to handle outbursts and practical means to calm my stressed-out body too. We learned to remember, behavior is only a piece of the puzzle.
This shift beget further changes in the years to come for the way I saw myself, others, and God.
It wasn’t even close to easy to balance healthy training with lots of love and acceptance, but it was worth the efforts. The work we did was far from perfect, but by the grace of God, it made a difference.
Sometimes, a difference is the most we can ask for. We don’t always get to see the fruit of full healing or the labors of our love.
As we learned better strategies for dealing with the anger in our home, I had better bandwidth for nurturing the kids. Their brains were able to settle down in safety. It took time and we took a lot of hits in the meantime, figuratively and literally.
If you’re the parent of an angry child, it doesn’t matter the reason why their angry or who gave birth to them, their anger is a sign. Please listen. Become a detective with the help of the Holy Spirit and ask God to help you see what He sees.
I know it’s so tiring to face the challenges day in and day out. I hope you’ll get practical help physically, emotionally, and spiritually because your body and soul need it.
Your angry child needs you to get the help you need so you can help them in theirs.
What would this look like for you?
You don’t have to come up with a plan today, but if you make space to ask God, you might be surprised what He has to say.
This kind of space could be quiet time away from home, or as an escape in the bedroom when someone else is on deck with the kids. It could also be prayer in the tub/shower, or breathed prayers right in the midst of chaos.
Hope & Help for Parents in the Whirlwind
Tricia Goyer, author of 72 fiction and non-fiction books, recently released a book I wish I had soaked in before having any kids. Foster, step, bio, or what have you.
Her experience comes from adopting several children through foster care and subsequently receiving good counseling.
She shares helpful and hope-filled insights for dealing with angry kids.
Truth be told, the wisdom included applies to angry friends, spouses, parents, and others too.
Want to know more?
Join me and Tricia for this Cultivated Conversation about Calming Angry Kids. Video below.
- What’s it been like for you when you expressed anger?
- How did others respond?
- What did your experience lead you to believe about yourself? About others? About God?