It can be frightening and disconcerting to see how much anger can come from one little person during a temper tantrum, whether it happens at home or in public. And it can be worrying when those tantrums start to occur frequently.
You wouldn't be the only parent or guardian to be concerned about the reasons behind your child's outbursts. This may happen even when you're handling them appropriately. In this case, anger management for kids that put a focus on emotional control could be useful.
What Triggers Anger in a Child?
There are numerous possible causes for your child's rage or violent behavior.
It is helpful to remember that children are human beings that are having a human experience, just like adults. However, children lack the decades of expertise that adults have in managing their emotions.
This is why some emotions like anger can take over and manifest as tantrums and other unwanted behavior. Because development is still taking place in the brain, this can make it difficult for children to make logical, informed decisions, or be able to reason.
Childhood is also a time when all emotions, not just anger, are strong. Powerful feelings are a sign that a child needs to act out his or her emotions to feel better.
What are Signs of Anger Issues in a Child?
There are several signs that can indicate that a child has anger issues. These may include but are not limited to the following:
- Their temper tantrums from childhood continue past the usual age
- They become irate when they fail to succeed or find a solution
- Their teachers claim that they are unruly
- Their peers are unwilling to play with them
- They attribute their issues to others
- Their actions pose a risk to both themselves and other people
- When they're upset, they say hateful or degrading things
- They look for excuses to be angry
- They believe their anger is out of control
Common Causes of Anger Issues in a Child
Anger is not an emotion that appears out of nowhere. There are several causes that may result in a child feeling angry, and some are more common than others. Here are some of the more typical causes of anger issues in children that you may come across:
If children are constantly exposed to fighting just as they are learning to talk, they might take what they witness from adults’ conflicts and arguing and then imitate that behavior. Witnessing a fight can also cause stress and sleep issues.
Children can start imitating the language, communication methods, and vocal tones of the adults in their lives once they are toddlers and begin to learn how to speak. They may also find it difficult to explain their emotions rationally.
According to a 2015 study, this occurs because family strife can change the way children's brains process emotions [*].
Bullying can also affect kids in a variety of ways, increasing their risk of developing severe phobia, personality dysfunction, and even suicidal thoughts. Bullying may also affect a child’s brain development and make them more prone to rage and violence [*].
Abuse and trauma
Psychological symptoms, such as a propensity for anger and violent conduct, can emerge in children as a result of emotional and physical abuse. Similar effects could be caused by traumatic events.
How Can I Help My Child Manage Anger?
Children often cannot manage big and intense emotions like anger on their own. Having an adult such as a parent, guardian, or teacher can help them. Here are some ways and activities that you can help manage your child’s anger:
Consider three questions about anger
Why do I feel angry? It can be challenging to understand why we get angry at times. It might suddenly and unexpectedly show up. Knowing what makes us angry, such as certain people, locations, or circumstances, allows us to predict it and respond appropriately to prevent it from spiraling out of control. Investigating anger triggers can provide you with early warning signs that may help your child leave the situation, prevent their anger from growing, and feel more in control.
What happens when I feel angry? Anger may come on quickly, seem unavoidable, and yet be predictable. Children need to understand what makes them angry, such as fatigue, rage, when others don't act fairly, or when they have to quit doing something they like. Children must also understand how their anger prevents them from getting what they need and want.
What should I do with my anger? We all experience moments of rage. You can welcome your tough feelings, almost like you would welcome a visitor at home. Do this by becoming aware of the emotion and learning to greet it with kindness. This helps you refocus on the positive aspects of your life and eventually find balance and healthier communication styles. Answering this question also allows your child to have confidence in their own capacity to handle events, even when anger shows up.
Children and adults can both benefit from using role-playing to explore specific anger triggers, such as being told to stop doing something or engaging in an activity that is beneficial for them but is not part of their plan. For instance, you may pretend that your child is being ordered to clean their room, but their emotional side starts acting out instead. Encourage them to practice their more primitive side (their “emotional chimp”) to stop and think about how they would accomplish their goals instead. Such self-control can be a useful strategy for delaying the commencement of angry conduct.
Use outside reinforcement
It is ideal in anger management for kids when everyone, not just their parents or guardians, consistently reinforces it. That external reinforcement can come from a variety of sources, including teachers, family, friends, and mental health care experts. Some kids might gain by going to support groups, for instance, where they can meet other kids who struggle with the same things. Children in these groups can pick up coping mechanisms from their peers and group moderators.
Process anger while your child is calm
Learning how to process this emotion by exploring what is under the surface can really be beneficial for your child when they encounter an anger-inducing situation. Using something like an anger iceberg worksheet can help kids process their past angry feelings while they are calm so they can better identify them in the future and deal with them accordingly.
Set limits and follow through with consequences
When kids get out of hand, lay down the law and let them know who's in charge. Say something such as, "No hitting, and if you won't stop it, I will stop you from doing it.” If a child is to learn to pause and consider his actions, he must experience the consequences of said actions. For instance, for anger outbursts during playtime, you can say something like, "You can't be together if you cannot play without hurting each other. See if you can remember this if you want another chance to play.”
It's important for kids to understand that misbehavior doesn't make them become bad people. They can get over their feelings of guilt and move on to having hope that they can change by offering an apology and making amends.
When to Seek Professional Help
At-home tactics like modeling behavior can be helpful. However, if you're feeling overburdened, you may find it helpful to have your child attend a support group or seek assistance from a licensed professional.
The Bottom Line
When your child is upset or has tantrums, it can be stressful and occasionally frightening. However, there are steps you can do to teach your kid to better manage their emotions and prevent aggressive behavior. And of course, the right therapists are always here to help.
- Schermerhorn A, Puce A, Molfese D, et al. Neurophysiological Correlates of Children's Processing of Interparental Conflict Cues. June 2015.
- Quinlan E, Barker E, Luo Q, et al. Peer victimization and its impact on adolescent brain development and psychopathology. 12 December 2018.