What can I do to help my raging granddaughter? – Part Two – Anger and Verbal Communication

This week I am doing a 5 part series about coping with bipolar as a child or as that child’s parent/loved one. As stated yesterday, communication is very important with a child who is having an episode. Children tend to verbalize everything they’re feeling and it’s our job as adults to validate those feelings and talk through the consequences of any negative actions they want to take part in. Part of yesterday’s question said …

My 8 yr old grand daughter … has severe mood swings and I … need some good tips on how we can reason with her …

Reasoning with an angry, raging child might seem impossible, but with patience and the ability to stay relaxed, it is possible to talk a child into a rational more calming state.

With PDog, most of his irrational, negative verbal lashings coincided with his physical rages. Staying calm while he was trying to destroy things, hurt himself and or me was VERY difficult, but I found that the key was keeping my voice even and staying positive.

As explained yesterday, while trying to keep PDog from harming himself or me I’d hold him and repeat, “I will let you go as soon as you calm down.” I also asked you to take careful note of these words, “I WILL let you go as soon as YOU calm down.” Also advising to never use negative words while trying to calm a raging child. (For further explanation click HERE)

Counteracting a child’s negative words with something positive is the best way to shorten a rage. Here are a few examples of good responses vs. bad responses:

CHILD: “I hate you, I hate everybody!”

– Good Response –

ADULT: “That’s sad because I really love you. How do you think that makes other people feel?”

First off, you’re validating the child’s feelings. They do hate you right then. You can’t try to tell them they don’t. So you need to acknowledge that. Then you counteract their negative words with a question. It usually throws them off guard a little, but also prods them to continue working out the anger.

– Bad Response –

ADULT: “No you don’t. You’re just angry.”

No no no no no … never invalidate a child’s feelings. And never try to TELL THEM how THEY feel. It’s their feeling, not yours. This statement just opens you up to a, “Yes I do!”, “No you don’t!” fight. I’m not so much a fan of those.

CHILD: “I’m going to hurt hit/kick/bite you if you don’t let go!”

– Good Response –

ADULT: “I wish you wouldn’t. That would hurt a lot. How do you think you would feel if someone hit/kicked/bit you? Would you like that?”

Again, you are validating their need to lash out in anger but also counteracting with a question. When you do this it makes them have to think about something OTHER than their rage. It’s sort of like a redirection technique.

– Bad Response –

ADULT: “Oh no you’re not. If you do I’ll hit/kick/bite you back, so don’t even think about it!”

It’s really the first four words that are key here, “Oh NO you’re NOT.” I can assure you, they are … nine times out of ten if they say they’re going to harm you, they fully intend to. And if you try to tell them they aren’t it will mostly likely only fuel the desire to want to harm you more. I know not every parent/guardian/adult would use the second phrase, but I wanted to put it out there regardless. If you threaten to do the same thing back, you are only reinforcing that it is okay to do so in the first place. It sounds backasswards … I know, but it’s true. Children hate hypocrites and double standards. In their minds there’s absolutely no rationalizing why you can do something and they can’t.

Okay one more …

CHILD: “Everyone hates me. I just want to die!”

– Good Response –

ADULT: “Oh wow, you want to die? I’d be so sad if you did that because I love you so much. And how do you think that would make daddy/grandpa/sister/brother/uncle’s monkey feel? I bet they’d all be so sad.”

Validation? Check. Reassurance that you care? Check. Redirection with a question? Check!

– Bad Response –

ADULT: “You don’t really want to die. You’re just angry. Stop saying things like that!”

I see invalidation there … a little bit of trying to tell the child what they are feeling and why … eek, and then telling them to stop! Red alarm going off there. Expect to hear a bunch of “No”s back and other such negative responses.

Granted negative responses are bound to happen in a situation like this no matter what you say. And PDog was great with comebacks. Still, I remained positive. I never said, “No,” “Don’t,” “Stop,” “Can’t,” or anything like that. I’d just kiss his head and prod him with questions.

He’d say, “I want to run away!” and I’d say, “Me too! Where are we going?”

He’d say, “You can’t come with me. I hate you!” and I’d say, “Really? How are you going to survive out there alone? Where will you go? What will you eat? What if you get cold?”

He’d say, “I’m going to jump out a window and die!” and I’d say, “That would make me really sad. And what if you just land in the grass and end up with a broken leg? That would hurt! And you’d probably get cut with all the glass. What kind of fun is that?”

He’d say, “I just want to blow up into a million pieces so you’ll never see me again!” and I’d say, “Wow! How are you going to do that? I’d really miss you if I never got to see you again. Maybe you could help me make dinner instead.”

When you lay all the consequences down before them and offer alternatives outcomes it really throws the child off and forces him/her to think, thus slowing down his or her brains a bit and slowly calming them down without him/her even realizing he/she is doing it.

I think it would be awesome to make this post more interactive. How about you play the part of an angry raging child, and I’ll give you an example of how I would respond? Go ahead … throw your worst at me! Just put it in the comments and I’ll post my reply 🙂

11 thoughts on “What can I do to help my raging granddaughter? – Part Two – Anger and Verbal Communication

  1. ADULT: “Oh wow, you want to die? I’d be so sad if you did that because I love you so much. And how do you think that would make daddy/grandpa/sister/brother/uncle’s monkey feel? I bet they’d all be so sad.”

    BUT You could also say something like …

    “I’d be sad if you did that. What do you think would happen if you died?”

    For the most part, it’s all about validation and questioning the consequences of what they want to do.
    You could also ask,

    “How do you think that would help?”

    or

    “Sometimes people feel that way. You’re not alone. I think we’d all prefer it if you were alive though. Would you like it if I died?”

    When you get them to consider what would REALLY happen if they killed themselves or died, it makes them slow down and rethink it. Think of all the reasons YOU might want to die?

    When I’ve thought about it in the past my reasons were that no one cared about me, I was just a burden and I’d be making everyone’s life easier, or then I wouldn’t have to deal with all the hard stuff. So let’s say you asked your child the last question …

    YOU: “How do you think that would help?”

    Answer One

    CHILD: “Because nobody cares about me. Everybody hates me!”

    YOU: “I love you so much. My heart would break if you were gone. I’d really miss you. Would you like Mommy to be that sad?”

    Now this could go bad and he/she could say, “Yes! I don’t care if you miss me!” but then you can add in what would happen if you missed him/her so much and then turn the tables.

    YOU: “I’d probably cry all the time. What do you think you’d do if I were to die?”

    It’s all about making the child realize what would happen if they did that. If that makes sense?

    Answer Two

    CHILD: “I’m just a burden and I’d be making everyone’s life easier”

    YOU: “My life would be so much harder without you! Who would I hug? Who’d help me with dinner? Who would sing to me when I’m sad?”

    Pretty much give him/her ALL the reasons why it would make your life harder to be without them. But do it with questions. Maybe they’ll have an answer for each one such as Daddy or Sister, etc. BUT I’m sure as you list them you’ll come across one that ONLY your child can do. And after listing so many … he/she is bound to see how much you need them in your life.

    Answer Three

    CHILD: “Life is just too hard! If I died I wouldn’t have to deal with all the hard stuff.”

    YOU: “Mommy has that same problem sometimes. It is really hard to deal with difficult things. But if Mommy never (add difficult experience here) then she would never have been able to (how that experience benefits the child). Hard stuff makes us way stronger. I bet you want to be a strong kid!”

    Obviously you know your child better than I, but if you play to their interests and concerns … you’ll be surprised how things will start to calm down.

  2. Child – “I hate school, I hate my teachers and all the other kids”, I’m going to bring a knife to school and stab my teacher when she’s not looking, I’m going to kill her. And then I’m going to slash up the kids in my class”……..

  3. A “reward system” can help too, ie: every time the child is able to calm down and have some self control a “reward” is given…..that helps “reinforce” the behavior and that along with a lot of praise teaches the child an appropriate way to deal with rage/anger and rewards give them the “incentive” to keep working on how to calm self and remain calm. The goal being that the child can eventually recognize when they are angry and then use the tools they have learned to diffuse it on their own without having to be “restrained”.

  4. Example from my 9 year old bipolar son just from last night. “I’m soooooo bored” “There is NOTHING to do!” “Everyone hates me.” “I’m such an idiot” “Why am I such an idiot?” “I’m the stupidest most retardedest person in the world!” “I’m running away!” He then proceeded to walk down the street but didn’t make it past the neighbors house. This all happened at the same time!

  5. See … there are some lines that can be crossed in these instances. I could be wrong, but I think many of us mothers have heard the, “I want to die.” comment from our children with bipolar. I’m also pretty sure all of us with bipolar have felt like they want to die. However, neither me or my son have ever threatened to kill another person nor have we described HOW we would kill them.

    It’s one thing to hate school. Never want to go to school again. Hate the kids. Hate the teachers. But it’s a completely OTHER thing to have urges to stab teachers or slash up kids. If it were me in this case, I’d forgo any communication tactics and immediately call their doctor because although they may not follow through on these thoughts, they are still posing as a danger to others.

    It would also somewhat depend on the situation. What is the tone of their voice? What kind of look do they have in their eyes? What triggered these thoughts? Is it something that happened in a movie they saw or on a video game so maybe their just using the situation they saw as a means to solve their own problems?

    Don’t get me wrong. My son has thrown out the, “I’ll kill you!” threat to another child out of anger … but after a very long talk about making threats like that at school and the consequences it was only that once. It also did not come with the specifics of how he would do it. The fact that the child above has carefully calculated every detail down to waiting until the teacher’s not looking and then the use of the word “slash” in referring to what he would do to his classmates concerns me a great deal. It’s very hostile aggression with little to no empathy for everyone involved.

    Again, attention seeking behavior or not, I would not try to handle a situation like this on my own. I’m not sure if that creates a double standard in terms of a child threatening to kill themselves … but from experience, I know that wanting to die has nothing to do with aggression or violence. But that’s just me.

    I’d love to see other comments on this …

  6. Yeah, I’ve been in those situations. It’s amazing how much can happen in a short period of time. And even more amazing how once they calm down it is like they never said any of these things.

    I’m definitely not a stranger to, “I’m sooooooooooo bored! There’s nothing to do!” Unfortunately, I have little sympathy for this statement. Especially because my kids are not lacking in the entertainment department. When my son tells me he’s got nothing to do, I’ll give him a whole list of things he has to do, add in a few chores to show him there are worse things he could be doing, and then tell him there’s nothing I can do about it when he tells me all those things are boring too. I’ll also add in a little comment about how maybe I should just give all the things he does have away since they are Sooooooo boring.

    HOWEVER

    Unfortunately that does sometimes set him off and then it turns into the, “Everyone hates me.” “I’m such an idiot” “Why am I such an idiot?” “I’m the stupidest most retardedest person in the world!”

    When it comes to my son, I’ve learned it’s absolutely useless to argue with him when he thinks he’s dumb, or stupid, or everyone hates him. So I’ll only say my thoughts ONCE …

    ADULT: “I’m sorry you feel that way. I think you’re really smart. Remember how you got an A on that math test? I failed my last math test! (this only works if you are in school too) I always have a hard time in math. So does that mean I’m stupid too?”

    He will rebut pretty much all these things, but at that point I refuse to repeat myself. Instead, I change the subject … while at the same time inadvertently reinforcing my previous statements. Something like …

    “I could really use some help cooking dinner. Do you know anyone who’s good at stirring the noodles? Maybe you could help!”

    or

    “I just remembered! I have to vacuum (and/or something he really likes to help with but I rarely let him … like cooking or bathing the dog or washing the windows – he likes to spray the Windex – or little things like that). But I’ve got to cook dinner too! Do you think you could maybe vacuum for me? You’re the only one who knows how to do it the way I do.”

    And every time he tries to argue with me saying I love him and he’s smart or the likes … I will just say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” These are the only words I repeat. I’m not telling him he is stupid or dumb or I hate him, but I am validating that he feels that way at the moment.

    Still, sometimes the “Everyone hates me!” does turn into, “I’m running away!”

    Maybe I’m a strange/mean mom or something, but I kinda like this argument. I’ve said all of the following …

    “You’re running away? Really? Can I come!”

    “Do you need help packing?”

    “Where are you going? How will you eat? Where will you sleep? GASP Where will you go to the bathroom!”

    “Hey now! If anyone’s going to run away, it’s totally going to be me. I mean you can come if you want to … but I’ve got a deserted island with my name on it!”

    “It’s pretty cold outside.” or “It’s raining pretty hard out there.” or “But it’s sooo hot out. How will you keep cool?” and then I’ll add, “Maybe you should wait until tomorrow. Would you like a glass of water instead?”

    This is not to say that I haven’t had to hold my son to keep him from running out the door. I’ve been there done that once or twice in the past. Usually I’m blocking a doorway while saying the above things. Other times I get lucky and get through to him before it gets ugly.

    Also, never underestimate the power of laughter. A crack in the anger shield can do wonders! Offer to pack him something silly to keep him company. I’d probably offer my son a gnome. Tell him you’ll drive him to the bus station if he waits till daddy gets home from work.

    And remember … Keep your voice calm and your words positive!

  7. Thanks Marybeth, I have to agree with you that an immediate intervention such as taking the child to the doctor or I would also suggest to a counselor if the child has one and get further direction from the professionals. If I was unable to get the child in right away for an appointment I would attempt to take the child to the hosital, however if the child is in a very aggressive and hostile state and is not able to calm down I would call 911.
    The reason I asked this question is because I used to see kids admitted to the hospital that I worked in, where they either made “threats” to hurt or kill people at home or at school. I believe that homicidal threats need to be taken as seriously as suicidal threats. Often it took weeks, sometimes months in the hospital to stabilize these children. However once they were stabilized they were no longer at risk to themselves or others and were able to function in the community again. School shootings are also quite common today and obviously there is a component of “rage” going on with these kids. Not that they necessarily have bipolar disorder but clearly there is something very wrong with their mental status when they go and bring guns to school and shoot the place up…….

  8. I’m so glad I found you. Thank you so much for all the great ideas!!!! My husband and I are both new to this and trying to learn every shred of helpful information we can get our hands on! Thanks again!

  9. I have a 12 year old daughter with bipolar and after I discipline her for punching a hole in our wall or hitting her little sister she yells out at me the following and I don’t know how to respond. I send her to her room.

    I hate you mommy. Your the worst mom in the world. I don’t want to live here anymore.

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