Warwick Pudney is a social ecologist and relationship therapist who has spent the last 25 years working with men, couples and families in New Zealand. He specializes in the areas of anger, abusive behaviour, men’s welfare and parenting. He is a lecturer at AUT University in Auckland and writes and gives workshops and training courses in his chosen fields.

His new book, Little Volcanoes, offers strategies to combat negative feelings and minimize outbursts, and even provides a selection of poems and stories to help adults pass on the lessons of the book to children.

In this interview, Warwick explains why it is essential that children learn to deal with anger from a very young age, and provides some helpful advice for parents and other adults about their own behaviour.

You have previously written a popular book about anger in children called A Volcano in My Tummy. Tell us about your new book, Little Volcanoes – co-written with primary school teacher and novelist, Éliane Whitehouse – and who it is for.

Volcano in my Tummy was a more general book about children’s anger. We soon realised that a more specialist book for under 5’s was needed. My work with early childhood educators and with families convinces me there are a number of issues that could be looked at that would greatly assist young children. If constructive patterns of responding to children are formed and if assistance is given earlier to our children, we would have much better ways of dealing with anger as older children and later as adults. The book is aimed at professionals but in a way that parents can also easily pick up and read.

 Little Volcanoes focuses specifically on anger in young children. How does the experience of trying to help young children with their anger differ from helping older children?

Younger children have a much better chance to learn how to handle anger and do so easier. The formative years are really what we need to target. Giving young children simple but powerful words to express anger and hurt means many will have fewer problems with anger than older children, so as professionals we need to have a dual target for behavioural change. It’s also important for the young child to really get that ‘abusive behaviour is not OK’. Learning that 20 years later in a courtroom or through a painful break-up is so much harder on the person and society.

In the book there’s also some specialist information around early childhood issues like tantrums and working with boys.

Do you think that adults’ responses to anger in younger children differ from those when responding to older children?

Adults are more likely to disregard young children’s anger because they can more easily ignore it or tell the child to not be angry or to go to their room. When they are older, children or adolescents may be less inclined to comply with such demands and also they may channel ten years of ignored anger simply because they weren’t respected and allowed expression and because they are now bigger and so they can!

In the book, you describe anger as an empowering force. How can it be a good thing?

We all are born with a set of emotions that each have a use for the good of our lives. Anger is there to protect us when things go wrong, when there is injustice, and when we feel disempowered. Take that away and you have a very vulnerable, dependant person who needs another person capable of feeling anger for them.

You stress the key role of parents within the book, and are particularly interested in the role of the father. Tell us why this is, and the role the father plays.

Parents shape children’s behaviour. This behaviour needs to be shaped in a secure and trusting atmosphere that parents provide. Listening hard to children and, especially with young children, figuring out what they mean or what the real issue is, is so important to their feeling that they have a voice and are safe and the world is fair. Boundaries and regulation can then take place in an atmosphere where the child wants to do a thing due to the respect and love they have for the parent. Research clearly shows that fathers are vital to this, not just as an equal parent but for the differences that they bring. Fathers tend to be more firm on boundaries and reassuring to the ways boys think. Males tend to get more social permission to express anger. They provide male models of how to handle anger and conflict and have respectful differences.

You also write about the impact of society on young children’s behaviour. What kind of environmental factors can contribute to angry behaviour in young children?

Children are never angry about nothing. It stands to reason that if they feel angry then we should listen to them and help them deal with it. They have a clear set of needs that vary: from food and warmth, to love and affirmation; or the need may be as simple as the fact that ‘Ann has taken my favourite pens and won’t give them back’ or ‘Stephen had more than me’. All of these are things worth getting angry about if you are four. If their environment is not supplying them with coping strategies then there is a consequence and anger as the survival emotion kicks in. Our families and homes and society have a responsibility to provide support – otherwise someone has a right to feel angry. That doesn’t mean that we always get what we want; an important lesson in life is dealing with not getting what we want. Good anger management helps us know when to let go. Having Dad’s support in getting the pens back (or coping with their loss) is as important to a four year old as crossing the road safely.

A child’s behaviour is inextricably linked with that of their parents. Tell us about the book’s coverage of working with parents as well as the child.

Kids don’t learn disrespect from nowhere. Parents model good anger expression, listening, talking and respect. Often not only do parents not know that they may be doing something that may cause some anger in their children now or later, but they may need some training to parent in a different way.  The book goes through a number of parenting patterns that are not so helpful and suggests helpful ones – for example: promoting consistency; giving affirmations; and looking to other adults, not children, to get a parent’s own needs met.

What are some examples of the kind of advice you give to professionals faced with a young child who is exhibiting angry behaviour?

  • Listen, listen, listen! Empathy dissipates anger.
  • Ask what’s behind the anger. What’s the disempowerment?
  • Then ask them how they would like to fix the problem – generate a plan. You may have to help them with this and with a young child you may need to do the fixing.
  • If there is destructive or disrespectful behaviour then set boundaries and consequences and keep to them.

How do you hope children will be helped by this book?

They will get clarity about what acceptable behaviour is and isn’t, and they will learn to keep within the boundaries set out for them. They will learn to get what they need without hurting others. And they will also learn that anger is OK and they’ll learn to not be so frightened of it. It’s normal and we all have it.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

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