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My son is ten years old now and I feel that over the past year or so he has become increasingly irritable and prone to angry outbursts. He is easily frustrated by the smallest things and tears up and gets into a rage over what I perceive as nothing.

The problem in all of this is that I find it increasingly difficult to remain unaffected by my son's negative emotions. He gets over his fits of temper quickly and returns to a happy mood after a few minutes or half hour, but I feel that his rages destroy my mood irreparably. For example, we might start an afternoon in a good mood, I'm looking forward to what we have planned, and then something doesn't go as he wanted and he gets angry and stomps off to his room. After half an hour his good humor has returned, but now I am sad or angry or both and cannot get out of my funk for the rest of the day.

The worst of these situations happened two weeks ago. My son had an outburst, which wasn't even extremely bad, but it got to me so that I went to bed and cried and couldn't bring myself to get up again for the next few hours. I just lay there, thinking that I didn't want his anger to have happened, and unable to let go of no longer wanting to experience his moods.

By now, I look forward to the afternoons or weekends with my son with extreme apprehension, and I live in almost constant fear of his outbursts. When I am alone with my son, this apprehension and my attempts at not provoking him (while at the same time not bending to his wishes for more candy, more TV, or later bed time) is so stressful, that after a few hours I am so tired as if I hadn't slept for two nights.

I understand that it will take time to teach my son to deal with his emotions, and I sort of know how to go about it, but I don't know how to deal with my own emotions. All I want is to have the happy, easy-going, and fun child back that I had until about two years ago, and I am mortally afraid of his puberty.

What can I do to not let his negative emotions destroy my mood? How can I enjoy the time that I spend with him despite his frequent fits of anger? I feel like all the fun has gone out of my life.

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    That does sound extreme even to me, and I am absolutely terrible at handling other peoples anger. Do you have other issues, when things that you think you should be able to shake off affect you for a long time. – Layna Jul 21 '17 at 7:14
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    Time to see a counselor. Get somebody to talk to him and you should also keep an open line of communication too. – SomeShinyMonica Jul 21 '17 at 12:29
  • What are some of the circumstances in which your son has these outbursts, and how are they typically resolved? You specifically mentioned needing to be able to deal with his emotions WITHOUT GIVING IN to his desires to watch tv and eat candy. Do his fits only subside when he gets what he wants? – MAA Jul 21 '17 at 17:26
  • Im sorry to hear you are experiencing this I recommend giving this book a read. It will help you build a solid base with your son and help you understand your son's emotional reactions in certain situations as well as your own. Real Time Relationships - free book as PDF - fdrurl.com/RTRPDF – Craig Jul 23 '17 at 1:27
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This sounds a little bit like overexposure. Meaning, you and he are together so much that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" never has a chance to kick in. I love my daughter very much, for example, but it's when I've been watching her for long stretches of time (and working from home too) that I'm more likely to get frustrated with her. Especially when either or both of us are running low on sleep.

Neither your emotions nor his emotions are bad or wrong, they're warnings. His fits are actually completely natural for his age. I always watch my daughter have emotional outbursts and think 1 of two things: either she is tired and needs to catch up on sleep, or she is young and hasn't learned to understand & direct her emotions quite yet, and it's a wonder to see all that raw emotion in such a small package. As an adult, it's hard to remember that unjaded lack of control of childhood, but if you watch, you'll see them slowly,gradually learning to master their own emotions. For your part, your emotions are a MESSAGE! Do not ignore them, your mind is asking you to get out, get a change of scenery, take a trip, talk to another adult, get a baby sitter and walk alone in the park.

Some things to try

  • Get a babysitter
  • Get a grandparent to watch him a little more
  • Go out yourself among other adults
  • Do a playdate, where you can see him playing with other kids, and yourself interacting with other adults
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    While counseling (as recommended by the other answers) is never a bad advice, recommending it is also a bit like saying: I have no idea what you can do, so you better get professional help. I found the idea of meditation (put forth by @threetimes) a good one, but I have been attempting to meditate for about thirty years now and never made any headway into it, so it is not going to solve my problems now. If you do not already meditate, trying to begin meditating to solve a current problem is not going to get you far. – user28942 Jul 25 '17 at 6:59
  • And while analyzing my own emotions (as suggested by @anongoodnurse) is a necessary first step towards understanding what the problem is that I need to solve, I already did that and described what I found in my question: I am tired of my son overreacting. Its quite simple actually. – user28942 Jul 25 '17 at 7:00
  • And that is what @Kzqai so brilliantly picked up in his answer: I'm just tired of having too much of my son. Kzqai's suggestion that I need to go out myself among other adults is so very much spot on that just reading it takes half of my desperation away. Why yes, after ten years of being a 24/7 parent, I simply need to begin to allow myself to live my own life again. And I guess, maybe my son is beginning to get impatient, too, and I need to allow him to be responsible for himself more. – user28942 Jul 25 '17 at 7:01
  • Thank you all for you answers, I upvoted them all, because I'm grateful for your ideas and find them all valuable. But I picked this answer because it gave me a flash of insight that I feel will be very productive to me immediately. Thank you, @Kzqai. – user28942 Jul 25 '17 at 7:03
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I would look into either counseling or getting yourself into something like guided meditation to learn how to manage your reactions. You have to be able to not take is so personally & let it alter your trajectory, for your own sake and because you cannot teach him how to handle his feelings while yourself being so easily provoked by other people's moods yourself. It just can't be as effective to try to teach something you haven't really managed for yourself.

First, as yourself, if his behavior has been changing, then assess if your reactions have changed and look at potential reasons that either could be happening (as have either of you been under a different stress level, etc). Many times, if we stop & look at something more objectively, we may find a root to what has shifted. We can't always change the situation, but knowing what it is can help us formulate a more effective approach.

Aside from all of that, anxiety in people (including kids) can come out as angry outbursts, as can stress, overstimulation, etc. I brought up anxiety first merely because it sounds like you may be dealing with anxiety potentially as well & when both of you are tense like that, then it's easy to trigger an outburst that upsets everyone.

So the best thing to do is seek something for yourself to learn how to manage your feelings. Kids are going to have strong feelings, they are going to express them strongly at times, and as parents, it is our job to help them navigate those tough feelings, sort out what they are, how to cope, and then move on. If half an hour later he is all good & you are still in knots, he seems like overall he is managing okay.

AND finally, a book that might be worth a listen or read is "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Will Talk". It's go a lot of great tips an info on how to better interact in ways that help open up better communication which can prevent some of the stress & blow ups. You will likely never eliminate all of them as they are also part of human nature when we all feel we have had it with everything & just can no longer respond reasonably. We of course are always looking for ways to improve that, but in this age range, it's asking too much to think it can be totally eliminated.

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I understand that it will take time to teach my son to deal with his emotions, and I sort of know how to go about it, but I don't know how to deal with my own emotions.

I can't easily imagine teaching someone else how to handle their emotions without understanding what's going on (and therefor how to deal) with one's own. It's been advised already, but I strongly urge you to get professional help. A doctor's physical would also be a good idea; something as simple as, say, a thyroid disorder can have profound effects on moods. So can other problems.

In the meantime, read about emotions: primary, secondary, tertiary... from different and reputable sources. The feeling we are left with (e.g. sadness) is often the result of a deeper feeling (e.g. defeat, rejection or isolation) which is harder to recognize and deal with, but which must be identified if the sadness is to be dealt with effectively. Naming a feeling is the first step in dealing with it. You will probably be doing a lot of this kind of work (maybe less obviously) in therapy.

How can I enjoy the time that I spend with him despite his frequent fits of anger? I feel like all the fun has gone out of my life.

Until you realize what is behind your own feelings and learn to engage/disengage with his behaviors (which is easier said than done), you will have a hard time enjoying being with him. But you can start by labeling his behavior (not going further) and dealing with that.

If he is angry over something petty, and you can see that for just that ("he is angry over something petty"), it is easier to put it into perspective. You can deal with just the behavior, without the emotional baggage.

Dealing with behavior means rewards and consequences, which are always better discussed before they are dealt out, so sometime when things are peaceful, have a talk with him (and your partner if they are involved) and discuss his behaviors and possible rewards/consequences. There is some amount of give and take here, so do some active listening.

Then, say he explodes over - I don't know what, maybe he doesn't like his dinner - then you issue a consequence.

You don't have to eat it, but you do need to restrain how you express your dislike. Please go to your room to calm down and think about how that might have been better expressed. Then we'll go from there.

or, more generally,

It is unkind when you get so angry over things. I do not deserve to be treated that way. Please go to your room until you can behave civilly.

Try to do nothing more for the time being, e.g. no "What did I do wrong in raising him/Does he have any self control at all/Will he lose all his friends/Is he doing this to hurt me/Will he ever be a success/Am I a terrible mother/Will he ever be 'normal'?/Etc.") Save the questions for your therapist.

Try this and see if it gets you some much needed perspective. Ideally, at some point in his adolescence you will be able to have open and honest talks about his feelings as well as his behaviors, because they are at the root of his behaviors.

If he is having problems with other family members, friends and school, I would consider getting him into therapy as well or having therapy as a family.

Good luck; this is a difficult situation.

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    Excellent point about a physical. Even being low on magnesium can be significant on stress reactions. There are a number of potential things that can change how we react biologically. – threetimes Jul 21 '17 at 16:37

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