Being a child can be hard. Situations and emotions can be confusing. Children often can be affected by situations differently than adults. Moments of anger, or “acting out,” in children are normal. But as parents, it’s important to teach your child how to deal with his or her anger from a young age.
Path to improved health
A lot of things cause children stress. Stress can lead to anger. Situations that may cause stress include:
- Welcoming a new sibling.
- Parents’ divorce.
- Going through foster care or adoption.
- 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.
There are some ways you can help keep your child from getting angry. These include:
- Setting rules or limits. Establish boundaries so your child knows what to expect.
- Being consistent and following 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 helping him or her. This can lead to anger and stress for both of you.
- Rewarding good behavior. Offer verbal praise when your child follows the rules.
- Practicing what you preach. Set a good example and be a role model.
In instances when your child is angry or acting out, try to calm him or her by following these steps:
- Don’t become angry. Your calmness will help your child relax.
- Pull your child aside if he or she is around others. Being alone with you may make him or her more comfortable and willing to share the reason for the anger.
- Talk to your child in kind tone. Use a level he or she understands.
- If your child continues to be angry, pause your talking. Hugging or touching your child may help. It lets him or her know you care.
Help your child with anger issues
Younger children may not understand their emotions. They may not know what anger is or how to recognize it. In these cases, it might be best to ask them to draw their feelings. Ask them to show why they feel the way they do. Also, teach them the common signs of anger, which include:
- Urge to scream or hit.
- Clenched fists.
- Quickened heartbeat.
- Tense (sore) muscles.
- Body shakes.
When children are old enough to understand their feelings, it’s important to talk to them in more detail. Doing so can let them know anger is normal. Talk about the situation and their feelings. This can help them, and you, figure out why they’re angry. Plus, talking may lead to a calmer attitude. Ask children questions, such as:
- What are you feeling right now?
- Can you tell me why you’re feeling that way?
- What situation made you feel this 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?
Once you identify your child’s anger, help him or her find ways to control it. For example, he or she can count to 10 before talking or acting when anger starts.
Things to consider
Anger issues can worsen or become habits if left unnoticed or untreated. Some symptoms of a serious anger issue include:
- Lies repeatedly.
- Has frequent outbursts that escalate quickly.
- Has sudden or extreme mood changes.
- Has a hard time sitting still and focusing.
- Isn’t doing well or gets in trouble at school.
- Is verbally abusive.
- Physically hurts oneself or others, such as siblings, pets, or kids at school.
- Threatens to harm or kill oneself or others.
If you think your child has a serious anger issue, he or she will need to go to the doctor for diagnosis. Seeing a doctor for your child’s anger doesn’t mean he or she has a serious issue. Your child may need guidance on how to express and manage his or her feelings. And as a parent, you may need tips on how to support your child.
Sometimes serious anger issues are a sign of a mental health or behavioral condition. Your doctor can diagnose your child correctly. He or she will talk with your child, perform a physical exam, and review signs and symptoms. Sometimes an emotional exam, or assessment, may be done as well. Your doctor will want to know about your family history of mental health and behavior problems. The doctor will ask about your family life and your child’s personal life. Your doctor will ask your child’s teacher or school nurse about his or her behavior at school.
Treatment options for these conditions are available. They often include a mix of medicine, therapy, and education. Talk therapy may be offered. This can happen between your child and a specialist. Or it may take place as a family or in a larger 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 if special care is needed. He or she 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.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Why does my child get so angry?
- What should I do if I’m concerned about my child’s behavior?
- What can I do to help my child manage his or her anger?
- What can my child do to manage his or her own anger?
- Is my child more likely to have a mental health condition if I do or it runs in our family?
- What treatment options are best for my child?
- Should we go to therapy as a 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.