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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 11 (February 1, 1938)

Helplessness and Anger. A Child Problem

Helplessness and Anger. A Child Problem.

Even a very young baby will struggle against anything that interferes with free movement. Watch a baby when he is allowed to lie and kick and wave his dimpled fists wildly. He gurgles with delight. But if you hold his feet and arms firmly, he strains against you. His tiny face becomes flushed and he evinces every symptom of anger. You let go; his cry is stilled, and the signs of anger pass. What made him angry? Your interference, which gave him a feeling of helplessness.

In the same way, older children, though less frequently as the years pass, cry tears of helplessness and anger when some thing or person interferes with them. Haven't you seen a child, or perhaps even a grownup, hurl from him some piece of mechanism which resists his efforts at adjustment? Haven't you heard a golfer who has duffed his tee shot? Or perhaps you have even seen him throw his club after the recalcitrant ball. Admittedly the gust of anger is less, frequent in adults, mainly because the years bring greater ability in the solving of difficulties, and also a realization that most things can be “conquered” by increased effort.

In the realization that anger results from helplessness, parents are given a clue to children's behaviour. Because Billy was, naughty, and pulled elder sister Mary's hair, mother said he was not to play with the other children, and led him away. Billy resisted, so mother shut him in the bathroom for a few minutes, Billy's response was to cry loudly and angrily and to kick at the bathroom door. Mother said that such fits of anger must not pass unpunished, and left Billy there until he was quiet—and exhausted.

A little more understanding of child psychology, and a little more patience in enquiry, would have shown mother that Billy's “temper” was due to his feeling of helplessness. His pulling of Mary's hair was the result of Mary's insisting on playing with Billy's engine. Billy tried to take it from her, but she merely pushed him aside. He was helpless. The natural reaction was to become angry, which he did, and pulled Mary's hair.

Mother increased his feeling of helplessness by dragging him away from the scene of the crime, and, to make him still more impotent, locking him in the bathroom. Things, as well as people, were bullying him. He was a mass of anger, mixed with fear at what the consequences of his anger might be. Poor Billy!

An understanding mother would have found out the true facts of the case and settled the small matter between the children. Also, she would never have submitted him to still further helplessness and consequent anger.

page 58

In dealing with children who suffer from “fits of temper,” always seek the cause. It is usually the interference of some older, stronger person, who makes the child realize his own smallness and lack of power. Gentle treatment, and due regard for his small self-esteem, will remove from Billy the need for angry expression. If “things” cause him anger, ignore the anger, and show him how to manipulate things. Interest and a growing ability will make the anger reaction unnecessary.