The MHS Journals

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Child Anger Management: What Causes Anger Issues in a Child?

Jun 12, 2024

Updated: June 12, 2024

Dealing with a child’s anger is challenging, but help is available when you understand the dynamics that lead to outbursts and meltdowns.

  • Anger is normal for children and adults, but it can spiral out of control.
  • Anger in children has many contributing factors.
  • Medications, education, and therapy can help families regain control of a child’s aggressive behaviors.

Helping Children Deal With Bouts of Anger

Anger is a normal human emotion for children, just as it is for adults. In young children who feel angry, it sometimes takes the form of tantrums, frustration, defiance. While this is a normal part of development, sometimes anger in children can escalate and require intervention. Here are some signs from MHS that may indicate professional help is necessary.

  • Most children outgrow meltdowns and outbursts by the time they reach age 7 or 8 years. If your child is older and still displays tantrums when he feels angry, the behavior may need intervention.
  • If your child’s behavior is violent and threatens to cause harm to himself or others, you should seek professional help in managing anger.
  • If the child displays the problem behaviors away from home, including at school or visiting friends and family, intervention is warranted, especially if disciplinary consequences result. For example, if your child is out of control at school and gets suspended or expelled as a result, it’s time to seek help for the problem behavior.
  • Behavior that interferes with friendships with other children, disrupts family life, or gets your child excluded from social gatherings, needs intervention.
  • If the angry outbursts create conflict and disruption in your home, you may need professional help for underlying mental health issues.
  • If your child’s inability to control her anger damages her self-esteem or interferes with her daily life, it’s time to bring in a professional on mental disorders to help.

What Parents Should Know About Anger in Children

It’s normal to feel frustrated and overwhelmed when your child has anger management difficulties. Many parents think they have failed their children somehow, or they may feel as if others are judging their parenting negatively. However, parents and family members must understand that regular angry outbursts in children and adolescent anger problems are signs of distress. Here are some of the common causes of a child’s aggression:

  • Mental health diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD for short. Children with ADHD can get frustrated with their inability to process personal data, focus on activities, or follow instructions. As a result, they may lash out in anger and defiance. Often children with ADHD are misdiagnosed due to their outbursts and meltdowns.
  • Learning difficulties can leave a student feeling embarrassed and overwhelmed at school. To avoid those feelings, the child may act out at school rather than ask for help. Angry outbursts create a diversion and take the focus off the student’s lack of academic achievement.
  • Severe anxiety in children can also manifest as anger and defiance, especially if the child doesn’t feel safe to express her own emotions. When a child feels overwhelmed by something that happens at home or school, a meltdown may be a way to express those feelings.
  • Sensory issues, which are often a part of an autism diagnosis, can lead to frustration and temper tantrums. If your child is very sensitive to the feeling of clothes on the body, the level of light or noise in the room, or other forms of stimulation, he may express that through angry outbursts. The cause may not be evident if you don’t know about the sensory issues.
  • Adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect, can lead to uncontrollable anger in a child. Anger is a way of processing the deep pain and feelings of betrayal that arise from childhood trauma.

How to Help an Angry Child

Though anger issues in a child can be frustrating and overwhelming for parent and child, the good news is that there is hope for dealing with kids and anger. Medication, therapy, and parenting education are effective at helping children deal with bouts of anger. Here are a few suggestions that may be part of professional medical advice.

  • Medication: Parents often have concerns about putting a child on medication. Indeed, medication alone won’t correct angry or defiant behavior long-term. However, adequately managed prescription medications can help children reach a level of stability and self-control to work on the problem in therapy. A qualified and knowledgeable therapist can help the family work together to find solutions.
  • Parenting education: When a child has a tantrum, the parent’s response plays a significant role in whether that behavior reoccurs in the future. A therapist may recommend parenting education to help parents more effectively reward positive behaviors, remain calm, increase their frustration tolerance, and discourage negative actions through consistent consequences.
  • Professional help: An experienced therapist or counselor can help the family learn to manage a child’s aggressive behavior and meltdowns. That task starts with identifying the triggers, the things that provoke the negative behaviors. That doesn’t mean that you necessarily avoid those things; the family learns to manage them differently. For example, if getting ready for school in the morning triggers anger outbursts, the family looks for steps to make that experience less hectic. Something as simple as laying out clothes the night before can be surprisingly helpful.

Where to Find Help for an Angry Child

At MHS DBT & Mental Health Services, our team of compassionate professionals can help you help your child. Our youngest clients are typically between the ages of 11 and 12 years old. We use evidence-based practices in a safe and supportive environment to assist families in regaining peace in the home, to help the child feel more confident, and to improve productivity in daily life. Our mental health services focus on decreasing symptoms, increasing feelings of safety, and improving quality of life. Contact us today or visit one of our Minnesota offices to learn more about how our services can help you and your child. You can also reach out by calling (952) 835-2002.

Featured Image: Olly/Shutterstock