- Kids with anger issues
- Development of anger issues in children
- Biological causes
- Environmental causes
- Anger management for kids – in the moment
- Anger management for kids – prevention
An angry child can blow up over anything and everything. It can be frustrating for parents who must deal with their angry kids.
This explosive behavior may manifest in shouting, throwing things, or even physical aggression.
Such outbursts can leave parents feeling overwhelmed, confused, and at a loss for how to respond effectively.
You may wonder, “Why is my child so angry all the time?”
Kids With Anger Issues – Should You Be Concerned?
Young children often experience intense emotions and tantrums when they desire certain things but are not yet capable of regulating their strong feelings when they are disappointed or their wants and needs are not fulfilled. This is a common occurrence among younger children.1
But an older aggressive child throwing an angry tantrum is different.
It is tough to have an angry child at home.
It can put a severe strain on the family.
You never know what little thing would set them off and turn an everyday activity into a storm of angry outbursts or physical destruction.
It’s frustrating and exhausting for parents and family members to deal with.
Kids with anger issues are not simply unpleasant.
Failure to regulate and express anger appropriately can impact their social functioning and development. It can also hurt the parent’s physical and mental health2.
School-aged children who cannot control their intense feelings have lower empathy3. They have difficulties interpreting others’ intentions in social situations and therefore interact using inappropriate behavior.
These children have fewer social skills and are less popular with peers4,5. They are at risk for peer rejection, poor adjustment to school, and various externalizing problems6.
Older children with anger issues are found to be associated with delinquency, aggression, antisocial personality, and conduct problems7.
Excessive anger in early childhood can predict later psychopathology8 , such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)9 and conduct disorders.
Pay close attention to their emotional health if an older child has persistent anger issues.
Development of Anger Issues in Young Children
How did a sweet little baby turn into a ball of rage?
Scientists have found that anger can appear in infants as young as four months old.
Anger reactivity increases over time and peaks at around 18-21 months of age10.
This period in toddlerhood is commonly known as the “terrible twos.”
Many anger issues start developing during this period when the small child starts to become mobile and exploratory11.
Humans are wired to be curious.
Toddlers are motivated learners. They like to explore novelty and master new skills.
When young children start walking and becoming mobile, they want to explore the world around them.
However, their exploratory actions are often met with prohibition, scolding, or harsh punishment.
Frustrated toddlers do not have the emotion regulation skills to cope. They also have a hard time expressing themselves or negotiating for their needs. Temper tantrum results as the child escalates their anger but still cannot meet their needs.
An angry child may start with grunting and growling, but as their angry feelings intensify, they turn to shouting, screaming, hitting, and kicking.
If the parent becomes angry and starts scolding or punishing, the child’s intense anger will become increasingly persistent12 leading to anger issues.
What Causes Anger Issues In a Child
Two types of factors can contribute to a child’s struggle with anger regulation – biological factors such as genetics or illnesses and environmental factors in early childhood. Both can be possible reasons for a child’s emotion-regulating deficiency.
Biological Causes of Anger In Children
Genetically, some children can be born with a more difficult temperament. They are easily frustrated and more anger-prone13.
Infants with such a temperament display greater physiological reactivity (which they cannot regulate), poorer attention, and higher activity levels.
Genetics might be a cause for anger issues.
A study has found that if a birth mother has high levels of anger, her toddler is more likely also to have high levels of anger when exposed to hostile situations14.
Angry kids often have other mental health conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)15, Autism16, Asperger syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome17.
Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections
PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) can cause a child to have angry and violent behavior suddenly and out of the blue.
If your child has recently been infected with strep or had a sore throat and subsequently displayed excessive angry behaviors, seek help from your child’s pediatrician immediately.
Remember to mention the medical issues before the anger issue appeared, even if it was only a mild episode of sore throat.
Because there are no lab tests to diagnose PANDAS and because the diagnosis is clinically determined, find a doctor who is knowledgeable about PANDAS for help.
Check out this guide for more information.
Environmental Causes of Anger In Children
In toddlers, researchers have found that parents’ controlling behavior is related to a child’s anger and externalizing behavior18.
The child’s noncompliance also predicts an increase in the parent’s controlling behavior, creating a coercive cycle19.
Parent’s Emotional Reaction
The parent’s own emotions and reactions to their child’s anger matter.
If the parent shows their anger when the toddler is angry, the child tends to have persistent anger and noncompliant behavior20.
Child Maltreatment, Abuse, and Shame
Children who are maltreated with physical abuse or shame are more likely to have anger issues during conflicts.
If children are severely punished, criticized, treated with hostile rejection, or ignored by their primary caregiver, they may believe they are unwanted, unlovable, and “bad.”
These negative self-beliefs magnify the shame experienced in the day-to-day negative interactions. When shamed, children may try to avoid this highly negative, painful emotion by displacing shame with anger21.
Family dynamics is another environmental factor that can impact a child’s ability to self-regulate. Parents’ interactions among themselves and with other adults serve as relationship role models.
Even when not directed at the child, anger exchanges between parents influence how children interpret relationships and future interactions with others.
Kids with angry or aggressive parents are more likely to exhibit anger and aggressive behavior that interferes with their daily life22.
Anger management for children consists of two parts: dealing with anger in the moment and anger prevention.
Anger Management for Kids – In The Moment
When your child is raging, they are in a fight-or-flight mode and cannot regulate themselves. It is up to you to help your child calm down.
When a kid is emotionally dysregulated, the amygdala, the part of the brain that expresses emotions, is in charge. In contrast, the prefrontal cortex, the part that can think logically, is offline. Therefore, you cannot and must not reason with an angry child.
Here are a few positive ways to calm your child’s nervous system.
The first thought you have when you have an angry kid is probably, “Not again!”
You may have difficulty staying calm, but being a good role model is the best way to help your child.
Taking slow deep breaths is the first step to calming an aroused nervous system.
Slowly breathe in, count to five, and then breathe out.
If your child is willing to, ask them to join you. But this only works if the child has practiced deep breathing before the anger appears. Otherwise, move on to the next step after you calm yourself down.
Distraction may be used when your child can still hear you.
Guide them to think about something fun or happy, e.g., last trip to the beach, when they built a Lego airplane, hugging a puppy, etc.
It’s not good to get angry at your child when upset, but it’s also not good to laugh at them or make light of their anger.
When a child is angry, be attuned to their emotions and empathize with them.
Sometimes it can be difficult to empathize with your child when you don’t think they should be upset.
But empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what your child is experiencing from their perspective. It doesn’t mean agreeing with them.
Attune to their anger and put yourself in their shoes without getting angry.
Acknowledge their anger and name their strong emotions.
There is no need to agree or approve of their feelings. Simply describe it without adding any judgment or defending yourself.
“I can see that you are very angry. It feels so unfair.”
Children, and we all, want to be heard. Sometimes, acknowledging, naming, and narrating their experience is all it takes to calm a storm.
Physical touches such as hugging can help your child calm down quickly because it directly quiets your child’s nervous system.
If your child is raging, they may not want to be hugged.
In that case, stay with your child and use closeness to help them regulate. However, if your child is hurting themselves or others, hugging may be necessary to protect them and others.
Anger Management For Kids – Prevention
Reduce incidents that can cause frustration
For young children, transitioning from one activity to another can easily trigger anger and frustration. Give advance warning to prepare your toddler or preschooler for changes.
It’s easy to assume that anger in older kids results from them not getting what they want. But it’s more than that.
“Anger is always directed toward someone in particular, … not toward all of humanity.”2
A child doesn’t get angry all by themselves. So anger problems can be viewed as relationship problems as anger originates in the interaction between parties.
As in any relationship, there are two sides to every story.
Grownups often assume that children are carefree and upset feelings are inappropriate. But think about what children experience every day.
Here are some examples:
- You have to wake up when you’re told to.
- You have to eat whatever breakfast is made for you.
- You have your activities throughout the day chosen for you.
- You have to sit in class for hours a day.
- You have to ask for permission to use the bathroom.
- You have to do your homework when you get home.
- You cannot go out without your parents’ permission.
- You have to stop playing your favorite video game when the screen time is up.
- You cannot stay up late.
- You cannot reason with your parents because that’s considered talking back
- You’re given orders by grownups all the time.
- You are not always talked to respectfully, but you cannot show disrespect in return.
- The list goes on…
Will you be able to do all of the above day after day, and if you refuse, you’ll be nagged, scolded, or punished without getting angry?
The truth is we, the parents, are often the source of our children’s anger. We believe that many things we ask our children to do are good for them and, therefore, reasonable.
And we think we’re always right… No one is always right.
To prevent anger created by us, treat your child reasonably and with respect.
There’s a difference between teaching our kids to do the right thing and forcing our kids to do what we want. There’s also a difference between what is right and what is preferred.
When we think we’re right, we must tell them the reasons.
When we know we’re not completely right, we must be open to change.
Look out for tiredness and hunger
Children, or anyone, are more prone to anger when they are tired or hungry.
Address those needs, e.g., snacking, napping, or getting enough sleep if those are the underlying issues.
Warm, sensitive, and responsive parenting
Plenty of research has demonstrated that parents’ sensitive response, which creates secure attachment, is protective for children who are anger-prone23.
Securely attached children have better self-control and self-esteem24. They tend to regulate and express anger in healthier ways.
Discipline, not punishment
Discipline to teach, not to punish.
Positive discipline is a disciplinary method based on mutual respect.
Using positive discipline, you can encourage good behavior and correct bad behavior without yelling or using punishment.
Limit exposure to angry situations
Parents can help regulate children’s emotions by limiting their exposure to angry scenes, especially unresolved parental conflicts.
Children of all ages find adults’ anger stressful; exposure to anger exchanges between adults may sensitize children toward anger, making them more likely to become aggressive25,26.
Teach Emotion Knowledge
Teaching children emotional knowledge involves acknowledging and naming the child’s big emotions when they’re upset. Accepting and attending to the child’s negative emotions positively can teach them how to monitor, recognize and modulate the emotions.
Children with more knowledge and understanding of normal emotion have better emotion regulation skills and social competence with peers27.
Teach Signal Recognition
Teach them to recognize the common trigger and signals from their body when they’re about to get angry.
For example, some kids will feel that their bodies are getting hot, shaking, or clenching fists.
Teach them to take slow deep breaths or use distractions when they recognize those warning signs of anger.
Teach Stress Management Skills and Establish Self-Care Routine
Regular exercise or meditation can help reduce stress in your child’s life and promote regulation development.
Final Thoughts on Anger Issues in Kids
A child with anger issues needs help with regulation. If a child has frequent, prolonged anger episodes, seek professional help from a mental health provider such as a therapist, clinical psychologist, or adolescent psychiatrist.
Need Help Motivating Kids?
If you are looking for additional tips and an actual step-by-step plan, this online course How To Motivate Kids is a great place to start.
It gives you the steps you need to identify motivation issues in your child and the strategy you can apply to help your child build self-motivation and become passionate about learning.
Once you know this science-based strategy, motivating your child becomes easy and stress-free.
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