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What a child’s anger might be telling you

By Amanda Morin

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Most kids get angry sometimes. It’s a natural reaction when life feels hard or unfair. It’s also natural for the adults in charge to feel conflicted when it happens. They can feel irritated and want to help at the same time. 

Anger is often a sign that kids are struggling with or frustrated about things beyond their control. They don’t react this way on purpose. It happens because they don’t yet have the skills to identify and cope with strong emotions. 

Two common emotions that can lead to anger are anxiety and frustration. The key to helping is to find out what’s causing those feelings. Is it difficulty learning a task or skill? Or being slower than other kids to do things?

Understanding what’s behind the anger lets you respond in the best way possible. But it doesn’t always make it easier to cope with kids’ anger. Keep in mind that once they calm down, kids might feel ashamed of their behavior or like they’re “bad.” 

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Anger problems can get better as kids learn to manage emotions and express what they’re feeling. And there are many ways to help kids who have frequent outbursts, both at home and at school.

Dive deeper

How anxiety and frustration lead to anger

Anxiety and frustration are common emotions. But kids aren’t always able to express them any other way than through anger. 

When kids are stressed or worried, they may have trouble pinpointing what’s bothering them. They may not have the words to voice that mix of fear and worry. And for some kids, anxiety causes physical reactions in their body that can feel a lot like anger. 

Kids get frustrated for all sorts of reasons. They may be struggling with schoolwork or having trouble with friends. When this happens, it can make them feel vulnerable or powerless. For many kids, that comes out as anger.  

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Anger and ADHD

Some kids struggle with managing their emotions — especially kids with ADHD. They often feel emotions more intensely than other kids do. And they hold onto those feelings for much longer. 

At the same time, kids with ADHD have trouble with self-control and keeping their behavior in check. Intense feelings can quickly lead to angry outbursts. 

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Teaching kids to manage anger

It’s hard to teach kids to manage anger in the heat of the moment. But when things calm down, here are some things you can do:

  • Tell them it’s OK to feel what they’re feeling, but still be clear that it’s not OK to take anger out on other people.

  • Set clear expectations for behavior. Use when-then sentences like this: “When you stop throwing things, then we can talk about how I can help you.”

  • Use an emotions chart or feelings wheel to help them give words to more complicated feelings.

  • Talk about better ways to express anger, like exercising or drawing feelings.

Get tips for helping kids cope when they’re feeling upset.

Next steps

If a child often gets angry, it’s important to understand why. Observing the behavior and jotting down notes can help you pick up on patterns.

Share your observations. It’s important for parents and teachers to know what’s happening at school and at home, and to talk about what might help with the anger.

Parents can also talk with their child’s health care provider to see what might be causing the intense emotions and outbursts.

Parents and caregivers: Learn how to look for patterns in your child’s anger.

Educators: Get tips for sharing your concerns with families.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom