Being a child can be hard at times. Emotions and situations are confusing. A lot of things cause stress, such as:
- welcoming a new sibling
- parents’ divorce
- going through adoption or foster care
- starting school
- struggling in school
- changes in home or lifestyle
- processing new feelings
- bullying, which can start at a young age
- traumatic events
- death of a loved one.
Moments of anger are normal, but it is critical that parents know how to manage it. You also need to know symptoms of serious issues. These require diagnosis and treatment from a doctor.
Why is it important?
Everyone’s mental health is important. It affects how you think, feel, and act. Anger is a normal human emotion. Children are sensitive and can be affected by a situation differently than adults. Sometimes, children may “act out” and seem angrier than they should be. Anger issues can worsen or become habits if left unnoticed or untreated. Teach them how to deal with their anger early on and get them help, if needed.
Path to improved health
It is natural for kids to act out or be angry. This does not mean they or you are to blame. However, you can help them manage their feelings and actions. If your child is angry or acting out, try to calm them down. It’s critical that you do not reflect their anger. This makes it harder for them to relax. Instead, speak in a kind tone at a level your child understands. Pull them aside if there are other people around. It can help them feel more comfortable and open to share. If your child becomes angry, upset, or confused, take a pause. Hugging or touching your child also may help. It lets them know you care and aren’t mad.
Other approaches you should use to manage your child’s anger include:
- Set rules or limits. Establish boundaries so they know what to expect.
- Be consistent and follow through. If you don’t act on rules all the time, then your child won’t know when you’re serious. You may confuse your child instead of help them. It also can create added anger and stress for both of you.
- Reward good behavior. Offer verbal praise when your child follows the rules and controls their anger.
- Practice what you preach. One of the biggest things you can do is set a good example and be a role model.
When your child is old enough to understand his or her feelings, it’s important for you to talk to them. Before you punish them and their behavior, talk about the situation and their feelings. It lets them know that anger is normal, but talking is important and helps. It also helps you figure out why they are angry. Ask questions, such as:
- What are you feeling right now?
- Can you tell me why you are feeling that way?
- Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else?
- Have you had these feelings before, and when?
- How can I help you feel better?
If your child is younger and/or won’t talk, ask them to draw their feelings and reasons for those feelings. Younger children may know what anger is or how to recognize it. Teach them common signs of anger, which include:
- quickened heartbeat
- clenched fists
- tense (sore) muscles
- body shakes
- urge to scream or hit.
Once you identify your child’s anger, help them find ways to control it. For example, they can count to 10 before talking or acting when they start to feel angry.
Things to consider
Seeing a doctor for your child’s anger doesn’t mean they have a serious problem. They may be out of control or need guidance on how to express and manage their feelings. As a parent, you may need tips on how to support your child.
The doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist. They may have a mental health or behavioral condition causing their anger issues. Treatment options for these conditions are available. They often include a mix of medicine, therapy, and education. There are a lot of different medicines. Talk therapy could be in the form of one-on-one, parent(s)-child, family, or group. A counselor can help identify problems and methods to cope.
Your child may benefit from behavioral therapy as well. Meet with your child’s school or caretaker if special care is needed. They may meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This allows children to get customized education plans to help them at school.
Talk to the doctor or specialist about the benefits, risks, and side effects of treatment. Children who have mental health problems should be assessed regularly.
When to see a doctor
Get help if your child still struggles to manage their anger. Look for certain warning signs. These could mean your child is in distress and has a serious issue. If your child:
- lies repeatedly
- has frequent outbursts that escalate quickly
- has sudden or extreme mood changes
- has a hard time sitting still and focusing
- is not doing well or gets in trouble at school
- threatens to harm or kill oneself or others
- physically hurts oneself or others, such as siblings, pets, or kids at school
- is verbally abusive.
There are several ways a doctor can diagnose mental health problems. They will perform a physical exam and review symptoms and signs. Sometimes an emotional exam, or assessment, may be done as well. They will want to know about your family history of mental health and behavior problems. The doctor will ask about personal life. They likely will want input from your child’s caretaker, teacher, or school nurse about their behavior.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What should I do if I’m concerned about my child’s behavior?
- What types of activities will help my child manage their anger?
- Is my child more likely to have a mental health condition if I do or it runs in our family?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.