When Our Children Are Angry

When we think about out-of-control anger, we tend to think about it as an adult problem.  However, some children have verbal or physical outbursts that frighten parents and caregivers.

Chronic anger in children

Chronic anger indicates deeper issues

Children can show temper tantrums and violent tendencies that defy traditional approaches to discipline. Often, these children are diagnosed with conditions such as Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Others may be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and struggle with self-control, having an inclination toward impulsivity or anger.

Some research has suggested Reactive Aggression and Proactive Aggression as two main categories to differentiate angry behavior of children and adolescents.  A Behavior Problem Checklist of Aggressive Scales is found in Anger Disorders by Kassinove (p. 178).

Under Reactive Aggression, some of the behaviors listed include:

  • Has temper tantrums
  • Is uncooperative in group situations
  • Is negative – tends to do the opposite of what is requested
  • Is impertinent – talks back
  • Is irritable, hot tempered, easily angered
  • Argues
  • Sulks, pouts
  • Blames others and denies own mistakes or involvement

Under Proactive Aggression, some of the behaviors listed include:

  • Is disruptive – annoys and bothers others
  • Persists and nags, cannot take no for an answer
  • Tries to dominate others – bullies, threatens
  • Picks at other children, attempting to get their attention
  • Brags and boasts
  • Teases
  • Is selfish, unwilling to cooperate, share
  • Is deliberately cruel to others

The consequences of anger in children

Patterns of angry behavior can compound to violence.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to diagnose children’s behaviors because mitigating factors may contribute to or be primary causes of behavior problems.  What we do know is, without early intervention, these emotional or behavioral problems in young children may become regular patterns of behavior by age 8. Often, these behavior problems are compounded by academic problems, school dropout, substance abuse, delinquency and violence.

2 key factors help moderate these frightening behaviors

First, parents and caregivers need quality information that will equip them with skills and provide approaches for dealing with their children’s anger. Specifically, they will need to be aware of stages of child development, child temperament and effective discipline.

Parents need skills for handling children's anger

Second,  children also need to receive information and skill training to help them be more self-aware and aware of others. This enables them to better assess their and others’ needs, feelings and perspectives.

Parents should be teaching their children how to manage their impulses and build their problem solving skills. In turn, these children will need to be affirmed for what they do well and for making the effort to change. Parents should also set boundaries in the context of healthy and safe relationships. This means that boundaries should provide an appropriate atmosphere for processing and feedback along the way to change.

Discontinuing chronic angry behavior

Parents can feel powerless; a support network helps.

It is important to recognize chronic anger in children and to provide the help they need so that these behaviors do not continue beyond adolescence.

I recognize many parents feel powerless while attempting to help their children with anger. That is why it is tremendously helpful to develop a network of support, both for themselves and their children, during these difficult times of dealing with anger.

However, it is far better to intervene early to give our children the support and skills they need,  to empower them to overcome what could be a life-dominating problem.

Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Some information taken from Understanding Anger, 2004, Diane Wagenhals.

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