What to do about five year old's rages - are they normal?

My husband and I have two children, a three year old girl and an almost five year old boy. My son has been having problems with his temper. Most of the time he talks out his problems and plays fine with others. Over the past few months though he seems to lose control and lash out with a real rage. He will kick or hit and can't seem to get back under control.

We made a big move this summer, but he adjusted pretty well. He is a very loving and creative child,who loves to talk you ear off. He's very protective of his little sister and they usually get along great.

Is this anger just normal for his age? How do we help him with it?


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Dear Tracy,

Your son may be experiencing a delayed reaction to moving. However it is more likely that he is expressing tension due to new demands that require more self-control, or that he is acting as an emotional release valve for other family pressures.

Either way, his behavior does not sound "abnormal" but rather like he is bringing his own sense of "pressure" to the surface. Have there been other developments which contribute to pressure in homelife, such as job change or fluctuations in family life which have caused marital stress? If so, his loss of control could be an adjustment reaction to rising tensions in the family.

Create safe boundaries which protect him from hurting himself or others during his outbursts. Time out in his room until he is calm enough to talk about his feelings can offer him protection and support to understand what is triggering his rage. Discover what the precursors are for his loss of control. Is he overly tired? Has he entered kindergarten this year as well as moving? Could requirements for control at school be expressed as "falling apart" at home?

If he has recently experienced additional demands for controlling his behavior in a school or daycare setting, he may be adjusting to this new requirement. Given his otherwise cooperative and loving demeanor, it is likely that he is going through some "growing pains" which he may be taking out on you at home where he feels safe to express himself. If this is the case, he will eventually catch up with himself and school requirements will not take as much effort, which will result in less emotional exhaustion and "falling apart".

Continue to search for the emotional meaning of his outbursts. Consider, also that he may need some avenues to express his aggression in a healthy manner, no matter what the reason for it. He is quite talkative and creative which may indicate a personality bubbling with energy to express and he may need some guidance to develop safe avenues for such expression. Helping him find appropriate avenues for releasing tension is a job every parent must become involved in at some point in their child's development.

What are safe ways for your son to express anger and frustration? Might he want to kick a ball around in the back yard? Or use his words to express himself? Does he have any plastic hammers he can safely use to pound clay or some other pliable material when he feels like it? Evaluate whether he has activities during the day which allow him to release tension through physical exertion. Swimming, soccer, or playing ball with Daddy may be ways to release pressure that is being stored physically. Helping him find physical ways to release tension as well as listening to any "reasons" he gives for his upset will likely result in his feeling accepted by you.

He is fortunate to have a mother who cares and seeks to understand his emotional needs. By accepting the angry and loving aspects of his personality, you invite him to learn how to maintain his natural intensity in ways that fuel rather than hinder his development. It is this self knowledge that will allow him greater success and happiness as he navigates his way through life.

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