There is a moment, unperceived, when a normal child becomes a child who is overwhelmed by anger. The parents are usually unaware of this subtle change. Whether the root of the anger is in tangible causes, such as sibling rivalry, a change in lifestyle such as divorce, or some other disrupting or hurtful social situation, many parents – the authors contend– do not know how to handle their angry children in the right way. Tim Murphy, a child psychologist who has appeared on television and on radio and written many articles - does not believe that all angry children become angry adults, but he notes in this his first book that many parents simply give in to the tantrums of an angry child or indulge in other inadequate responses – crumbling and giving in, ignoring the child, retaliating in anger– this often leads to a society full of angry manipulative adults.
Dr. Murphy’s book aims to show the causes of much childhood anger and also describes ways in which the anger can be truly and deeply healed. For Murphy, there is a big difference between relief from the hurt of anger and true resolution.
The Angry Child is authoritative without sounding too academic. It’s readable book with clear, meaningful advice and many anecdotal case histories to help parents diagnose and respond to children wading through the morass of anger, bitterness, and resentment.
The two co-authors begin the book by showing the four stages of anger: The buildup stage, which is the foundation and font of memories upon which the anger will rest – incidents such as divorces, family deaths, sibling rivalries etc. The spark comes next. This is perhaps one of the Murphy notes that the parent who knows when to recognize what sparks her child’s anger might learn be able to use a few strategies such as “time-outs,” “listening,” “teaching their child to label their correct feelings,” etc. Stage three is the stage that gets the most attention: the explosion (which could be anything from a shout, a tantrum, a nasty comment, attempts at manipulation, or breaking things) and at last stage four, the most overlooked stage: the aftermath. The aftermath either leaves healing or woundedness, lessons learned or suspicions affirmed. In all these sections, Murphy includes case histories and strategies for helping children and their parents.
In further chapters, he speaks about the ten characteristics of the angry child. These characteristics show social behavior, non-verbal language and its many components such as tone of voice, personal space, inappropriate facial expressions, mental confusion, psychological games. He includes in his discussion suggestions on how technology and the media affect anger and how illnesses such as Attention Deficit Disorder also combine to create or perpetuate anger in a child. The suggestions on how to monitor the media and how to teach children to examine the media is especially handy for helping children learn to view the world and themselves critically. The many behavioral, psychological and educational therapies in this book are all very helpful, especially the sections on training adolescents and the section on children of divorce (although he doesn’t really do any indepth discussion on how parents can work with or against the educational system to help an angry child in school), and the authors certainly feel that while therapy might be needed in some cases, the average parent can learn the tools to help her child learn to recognize how to deal with anger in an appropriate and healing way.
The book is an easy read. And the older teen might even read it himself. This excellent book is highly recommended.