Angry outbursts are common in children. Emotions of every type are strong and it is normal for children to have trouble managing them. Just as your child may find themselves unable to stop laughing at something funny, they can become angry and act out in a negative way, and feel they have little control.While it’s never fun, understanding when anger is within the scope of normal behavior and when it may indicate a problem makes it easier to manage.
When Is Anger a Problem?
A few behaviors are warning signs that what your child is experiencing is beyond developmentally appropriate moodiness. If your child’s behavior is creating issues at school, if the outburst creates dangerous situations for them or others, or it interferes with relationships with peers, they need some help managing their anger.
Age Is an Issue
Children below the age of seven may still experience meltdowns that come from anger or exhaustion and are developmentally appropriate. Once they are older, their inability to control their emotions needs investigation. Try to talk to your child after they calm down. Are they ashamed or embarrassed about the meltdown? Is their anger affecting the dynamics of the entire household? If so, anger management could benefit the family.
Can ADHD Create Anger Problems?
Children with ADHD are more likely than their peers to struggle to control their emotions. In particular, ADHD with impulsivity and hyperactivity is linked to difficulty listening to instructions and transitioning between activities. These children are also more likely to engage in power struggles and arguing with others.Unfortunately, children with ADHD who are not diagnosed with the condition may be labeled as aggressive or as a discipline problem. Proper treatment can help the child learn to manage their emotions.
Children With Autism and Anger Management
It is common for children with autism to experience meltdowns that don’t stop until exhaustion sets in. While all children benefit from routine, for those with autism, it is vital. Lack of a schedule and not knowing what to expect will often lead to a meltdown. These meltdowns are not angry outbursts in the traditional sense. Developing and maintaining a routine can go a long way in controlling this issue.
Managing Mental Health
A variety of mental health conditions can lead to anger issues. One of the most unexpected is anxiety. While it is common to think of a child with anxiety as being timid, it often manifests itself as defiance, instead.Other mental health conditions may cause anger issues, too. Conduct disorders often manifest as bullying or running away from home. Oppositional defiant disorder is a pattern of angry, argumentative, or irritable behavior over a period of at least six months. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is recognized by depression interrupted with angry outbursts.Counseling and medication can go a long way in helping your child manage anger if it is the result of a mental health disorder.
What You Can Do
Understanding why your child acts the way they do is important, but you also need management strategies. Give your child some tools to help them control their feelings:
- Encourage them to leave the room if they begin to feel out of control.
- Show them physical strategies, such as taking slow, deep breaths, drinking a glass of water, or playing by themselves until they calm down.
- Encourage them to stop and take a few seconds and think before they react.
Build Coping Skills
Immature coping skills are often the root of anger issues. Children are naturally self-involved, so they need encouragement to think of others. Encourage them to try and think about how the person they are angry with is feeling. Empathy is a tough skill for some children to develop, but practice and support can help.Another option is encouraging them to brainstorm solutions. Many children find this a rewarding concept, as their competitive nature encourages them to think of how they can facilitate win-win outcomes. Learning to compromise is a skill that will provide life-long benefits.
Help Emotional Regulation
Some children have particular things that make them angry. Working with your child to identify triggers and building a plan to deal with them can cut down on anger issues. For example, if board games are a point of conflict, look for games where there is no clear winner and loser or games that move quickly enough that multiple rounds can be played. That way a loss doesn’t feel so dramatic. Of course, learning to lose is something children need to learn to accept, eventually.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is a valuable tool for helping children manage their emotions. With help from a counselor, they will learn effective strategies to recognize troublesome emotions and work out a plan to manage them. CBT requires a professional to coach your child through the process and practice for it to become second nature, but it is a valuable tool for managing not only anger, but other troubling emotions, such as anxiety.
Parent Management Techniques
As the parent, there are some tools you can learn yourself to help your child. PMT coaches you through alternative methods of reacting to anger or other misbehavior. Your response as a parent can have a positive or a negative effect on your child. Learning how to respond in the moment and providing positive reinforcement for good behavior can have a quick, dramatic effect on your child’s behavior.