“It’s not fair”, “You’re an idiot!” and “He cheated!”: Kids and teens ‘angry talk’: teaching them what to say instead

 “It’s not fair”, “You’re an idiot!” and “He cheated!”: Kids and teens ‘angry talk’: teaching them what to say instead

When we are angry, we have a strong instinct to express our outrage and needs in strong and emphatic ways.   We use our words to defend ourselves, attack or defeat someone – or something.  

As adults, we are (sometimes) able to disguise or dampen these themes, but in younger people (without fully developed brains) they are often expressed loud and clear.

  • James and his brother were playing a ball game which ended in them both yelling “You’re a cheater”, “this is stupid” and “Shut up!”

  • Ruby wasn’t bought something she desperately wanted at the shops, and she stomped, cried and shouted “This is so unfair” and “You are so mean” to her Mum.

  • Jordi was furious at Sara for telling others something told to her in confidence and texted her:“You’re a liar” and “Don’t ever talk to us again”

  • Tom* was asked to get ready for school three times until Dad took the ipad away from him which prompted him to yell: “Give it back to me” and “You’re horrible”

Unfortunately, while it is entirely normal for young people to speak like this at times - not only does it often make them feel worse, it makes people around them less likely to want to be with them, negotiate with or support them.   Which in turn makes them feel worse.

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Cool thoughts for angry kids: how kids who get mad think differently - and what to do about it

Cool thoughts for angry kids: how kids who get mad think differently - and what to do about it

I was watching an episode of The Good Wife the other night (I know, as usual about a decade behind the times) and there was a discussion about the way some people say “sorry” when they accidentally bump into someone in the stress and others say “hey, watch out!”.

It reminded me of a topic I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about lately – the way children think about arguments, problems or difficult situations with their peers (psychologists sometimes call this thinking “attribution style”) and how this influences how they act either angrily or calmly to these problems.   

Research on this topic started back in 1980 when a few pioneering psychologists (eg William Nasby, Ken Dodge and Nicki Crick in particular) started a series of experiments in which they showed children pictures of or told them stories about hypothetical problems with peers – for example someone getting knocked over in a game – and then asked them to say whether they thought another child had done this deliberately and intentionally or whether it had been an accident.

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Upset kids? What to ask

Upset kids?  What to ask

Has your child or teen told you about something today which made them angry, worried or upset?  If you live with a "big feelings" young person, then this is probably a very regular occurrence in your life.

How did you react?  It's interesting to note that we often want to "fix it fast" when we hear about problems by saying things like "you're okay", "don't worry", "calm down" or "let's solve this".  There is nothing wrong with these sentences sometimes, but other times they can be less helpful.

There are many other helpful things we can do when kids tell us they are upset - today let's focus on one possibility : asking more - and better - questions.

There are three helpful things about asking children and young people good questions about things that have upset them.

1. We get more information which means we can better support them.
2. They get a strong message from us:  we care about what is going on


(and ..spoiler alert...most important reason coming up)

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To tell or not? And what to say? 6 things to say to young people about disorders and diagnoses

To tell or not? And what to say?  6 things to say to young people about disorders and diagnoses

You’ve just finished talking to your child’s doctor, paediatrician or psychologist and they have told you your child meets the criteria for a mental health, educational/learning or long term physical health diagnosis.  What do you say to your child/young person? 

10% of young people are diagnosed with a physical disability and up to 20% with a mental health diagnosis during their childhood and adolescence.  Many more young people don’t have a formal diagnosis per se but have tough struggles in a particular area (learning, social, mental health, physical health). 

It’s not surprising therefore that many parents have to grapple with these questions to “What should I say? And How should I say it?”.   

Working out how to talk to children about their challenges and diagnoses can be tough.  But doing this as well as we can is really important. 

When we talk helpfully to children and young people about their challenges we can potentially support them to better understand their challenges, feel less blame and isolation, help them understand the need for treatment/appointments/home activities (when this applies) and also empower them to ask them for what they need when we are not with them. 

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When Your Child is Different: Dealing With Your Child’s Disability or Disorder

When Your Child is Different: Dealing With Your Child’s Disability or Disorder

In Australia, around 10% of children have a physical, cognitive or mental disability or disorder. Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with a whole range of these children and adolescents, for example those who’ve been diagnosed with:

  • a speech or language disorder or disability

  • autism spectrum disorder

  • a significant learning disorder or dyslexia,

  • a hearing or visual impairment

  • attention deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

  • a chronic health condition leading to physical disabilities

  • and many others

For some of these children, their disability had a huge impact on nearly every area of their social, school and home life.  For other children, their disability was relatively mild, or affected only one area of their life.

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