The issues of dealing with anger in children are a growing issue, an issue that can spill over into our daily lives through tragic events such as school shootings, abuse, general recklessness and other crime issues that are prevalent in our society. Trying to solve these issues verbally can have it’s limitations. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, combined with anger management interventions, may work for many children, but there is a segment of children, many of whom who have been through past programs based on behavioral therapies,on a multiple times basis in a long course of treatment, who won’t be changed, touched or altered by CBT interventions for anger management. This is because their anger is rooted in the past witnessing of violence, and the trauma that ensues after that, which is called “complex trauma”, and the intense shame they feel at their own anger, which results in them acting out more and more, with the anger/shame component sliding down the hill like a snowball going out of control, and growing larger with each episode of anger and acting out either verbally or physically against caregivers and/or others in a position of authority. These children may still be exposed to ongoing violence, whether physical or verbal, on a daily basis which can continue to be a negative influence on them.
Art making, especially with three-dimensional materials, acts as a great “subliminator” or way to take these intense feelings and emotions and put them into an art material and finished, or unfinished, piece. The relationship is key, both with and without art materials. Art making also aids in communication between the therapist and child client, and can signal to the therapist in a non-verbal way things that the child needs to communicate, or brings about, in the relationship and through it, open communication on the reasons why anger is exhibited by such an extent. A trained art therapist makes all the difference in allowing the art materials and relationship with the child develop to allow the child to gradually build up coping and communication skills which will lessen their anger outbursts against others, and allow them to express their emotions in a way that others can understand, react to appropriately, and have the client feel validated and understood.
Working with a child with a “short fuse” needs to be done slowly, and allowance for the relationship to build and trust to be formed, and repaired if need be. While clinical boundaries are of course important, asking an angry child to “toe the line”, will only result in a trigger being set off. Allowing the relationship to build up slowly, but genuinely, will aid the child, help them feel supported, and have a better outcome. It can be the dawn of a new day for not only the therapy with the child, but the family’s relationship with them as well.