5 Ways to Recognize Anxiety/Anger Triggers in Your Exceptional Child

Anxiety is something we all experience. Exceptional children and their families know all too well what it is like to live with anxiety day in, day out. I don’t pretend to know what it must be like for Michael to have such high anxiety. I get a little bit of what he must be feeling, being anxious myself and recognizing my own triggers, environmental and internal. Still, it is hard to sometimes figure out, why did he blow up over that? Why is he hitting or breaking things? Of course, I get that he is angry, scared, anxious. But what caused it? Lately as per his school psychologist, I am filling out ABC charts. These are usually used by behavior technicians and ABA therapists to determine what is potentially setting the child off and contributing to their behavior. A stands for Antecedent, what happened before behavior, B stands for behavior itself an C is the consequence of the behavior. I have learned a lot from filling these charts out and know so much more than when I started. For instance, I have learned when Michael’s behaviors are stemming from anxiety and when they are starting directly from anger. I can spot signs when he is building up and sometimes can intervene and show him how to “turn it around,”. I have learned new things about my own behavior and how to turn my own behavior around too.

So, what are ways to recognize anger and anxiety cues in your child? Here are 5 ways I have found:

  1. Is child suddenly full of energy? Now this could be excitement, but most of the time when Michael gets up bustling with energy there is stress lurking  underneath and it will eventually come out in crying, stalling or anger if he has to transition to the next thing. My solution? Stay calm. Give 2 simple choices and wait. The hardest part.
  2. Is my child not listening deliberately? This is also anxiety in a passive aggressive way. Kids will do this when they are no sure how to handle fears and uncertainties or if they don’t like something. For example when Michael has a subject he does not like at school, he will misbehave in the morning. This morning behaviors were coming out as he was nervous about his math class and stuff that is harder for him to do. We talked about him asking for help and not worrying.
  3. Is my child angry to begin with in the morning? There is a reason. What is happening that day? Is something new on the agenda? Are they feeling well? Have they gone to the bathroom? All of these things play a role and as a parent we need to be a good detective and try and figure it out.
  4. Is my child imitating, hitting me or friends or trying to knock things over? Our first reaction as parents is to get angry ourselves. It is SO hard not to. If you do, forgive yourself. You’re human. But try and remain calm. What they need most is calm energy and firmness to help them calm down and begin to talk about the problem. Only when they are calm do. Until then, stay nearby so they cannot do harm, but let them get out frustration.
  5. Is my child crying or having a mood change? Watch carefully with this one. This is a sign that they are feeling scared. If a child is scared or upset and has no strategies or ways to calm down in place, behaviors will come out. It’s up to the parents and adults around them to help them find ways to calm down and fix  it themselves. We cannot do it for them.

Exceptional Parents, how have you recognized your child’s triggers? Remember, to give yourself a break if you miss some of the signs. I still do, and I know my son quite well. It is also harder in children who are less  verbal or nonverbal to find the triggers, but when you start paying attention they are there. Keep a notebook where you write down any changes in behavior and see what results. Also, remember to take care of yourself. Your child will need you to be a calm and strong presence for them as they learn to manage their anxiety and anger. Until next time.

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