As I was in my office writing, the boys were upstairs playing with a friend. Then I heard sounds.
Those of you with boys will understand why I couldn’t tell what these sounds were. Boys sometimes play so fiercely. Who can tell whether it’s one angry kid trying to kill, attack or maim another guy, or just simply them playing a really exciting new game of weapons, destruction, or world domination.
It all sounds the same to me.
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I got my sign when the neighbor came down holding his eye and crying. He’d been “whacked” with a plastic sword and he was going home.
Then, my son came downstairs holding his eye saying that he was “whacked” with a plastic sword. He stormed and stomped and threw a couple things. (Which he later picked up and put back…)
And then he collapsed into an inconsolable heap after which he deemed the neighbor “banned for. ev. er.” from our house.
He was furious. And although his eye hurt, his deepest wound was his feelings. Having his feelings hurt is one thing that will get him this angry. And there are only a couple of things that will trigger his hurt feelings. He’s usually a pretty tough little armadillo to pry open.
If I didn’t know these two things about my son – I would never have been able to translate any of that from his wailing, rage, and ultimate collapse.
But I’ve learned to get to the root cause of his behaviors because it keeps our home sane and, mostly, happy.
My younger son is the kindest person I’ve ever met. Seriously. But he can also be the angriest. And the most inconsolable. And the most this and the most that…
I think of him as passionate. If he loves you – hold on! He will love you fiercely. If he’s mad at you – watch out! He will not rest until you’ve been made to restore justice.
So, I’ve learned that highly sensitive kids can display angry behaviors for many reasons. There are the “usual suspects” and then there are a couple of huge contenders that you may not have considered…
We All Know The Usual Angry Kid Behavior Suspects
Just in case you haven’t considered the “basics” in your child’s “angry kid” behavior – think about whether or not your child is:
- tired (sleepy);
- physically exhausted after a long day;
- emotionally exhausted from interactions with friends or classmates;
- in need of quiet time to decompress; or
- just having a “grumpy” day (Lord knows I have them
occasionally sometimesfrequently – why shouldn’t he??)
But let’s consider sugar, specifically.
Can Sugar CAUSE Angry Kid Behavior?
Can sugar cause angry kid behavior? We don’t know.
I suspect that we will eventually discover that as a result of our unique epigenetics and personal genetic code, each of us will be impacted differently by different amounts of sugar. And for some kids, the answer will be, “Yes. Sugar can cause their angry kid behaviors.” For others, it might be no.
But, we do know that children are more sugar sensitive than adults:
“Research suggests that children are more sugar sensitive than adults, and the effects are more pronounced in younger children, according to Dr. Keith Conners, author of Feeding the Brain. This could be related to the fact that the brain grows rapidly in the preschool years, exaggerating the effects of sugar on behavior and learning.”
In an interesting study, children who consumed a high sugar drink “experienced decreased learning performance and more hyperactivity than the non-sugar group.” (source)
We all have receptor sites within the amygdala of the brain for adrenaline. The amygdala is also the part of the brain that regulates aggression and mood. When the amygdala is activated by adrenaline, good judgment is lost and impulse control is significantly reduced.
Childrens’ brains do not handle the “fight or flight” impulse with as much grace, shall we say, as adults. Children respond by becoming aggressive, angry, hyperactive, or impulsive. (source)
So, I suggest not exceeding the recommended maximum intake of added sugar per day for preschoolers which is 4 teaspoons (16g) of sugar. And for children ages 4-8 it’s even less – 3 teaspoons (12g).
And as they get older it’s even less because their bodies actually have an increased need for nutrients, so within the proscribed calorie allowance, there is even less room for discretionary calories.
See also Kelly Dorfman’s terrific book Cure Your Child with Food: The Hidden Connection Between Nutrition and Childhood Ailments for more on this.
He’s Not Giving You A Hard Time…
Children display angry behaviors as a method of communication. And sometimes that communication is easy – translation: “I’m angry.” But many more times, there’s something much bigger lying in wait…ready to pounce.
If they are worried about things (as kids routinely are…) they can display angry behaviors that are hard for parents to interpret.
Anxiety and depression are skyrocketing in our tweens and teens. And this can create some pretty unattractive behaviors. As a parent, it’s difficult to know what to do.
Getting to the root cause of the behavior, though, is absolutely key before you can figure out how to help your child.
If you suspect that your child may be worried or if you are seeing behaviors that are annoying, difficult to handle, or they just simply baffle you, I’ve got a real treat for you!
My friend, Dayna, at Lemon Lime Adventures, has put together a series of free video trainings teaching us how to get to the root cause of angry and intense behaviors in kids and how to work through them so that you can have a happier, more peaceful home!
I hope you will – I’ve bee through the workshop myself and have seen the value in what Dayna teaches! She’s already been able to help 1,000’s of families just like us.
So what happened when the boys “whacked” one another with swords? I squashed my impulse to
say yell, “You can’t whack the neighbor with that sword – he’s really hurt!”
Instead, having used Dayna’s techniques to understand the root causes of my son’s anger, I was able to say, “Wow! He must have really hurt your feelings or done something super unfair for you to have hit him. You don’t usually hit your friends.”
Because I understood what he was feeling and I was able to name it for him, he was able to lean into the moment and feel his feelings.
His huge feelings eventually subsided and the neighbor was not really banned “for. ev. er.” It was only two days…