Does My Kid Have Anger Issues? These Are the Signs to Look Out For
Temper tantrums are a part of most most children's lives, no matter how much we'd love to wish or rationalize them away. Whether your kid is melting down because you cut their morning toast the wrong way or getting angry for reasons you can actually wrap your head around (homework frustrations, an abnormally early bedtime), tantrums are as rough on a parent as they are on your little one. They can also be even rougher as your child leaves the toddler years behind, gaining both strength and a greater arsenal of ways to lash out.
But when does a tantrum cross the line from normal child behavior to a danger zone that needs further attention? The general answer is that there is no one answer (welcome to parenting!). It's fairly common for kids who struggle with their emotions to lose control in a scary way — hitting, screaming, throwing things, and biting might all be on the emotional-outburst menu. But if your child is repeatedly lashing out, being defiant, or acting aggressively, posing a risk to themselves or others or wreaking havoc at home or at school, it might be time to take a closer look at their anger, its triggers, and your reactions.
When your child is lashing out over and over again, they're most likely telling you that they are overwhelmed and distressed and can't figure out a constructive way to manage those emotions. And as parents, it's our job to help — or to find a professional who can. Here's where to start if you're worried about your child's anger.
When Should You Be Concerned
Worried that your child's behavior has crossed the line? Here are some signs that you might need to enlist professional help:
- Your child is having tantrums past the page of 7 or 8 years old.
- Their behavior is a danger to themselves or others.
- Their anger is preventing them from making friends with their peers, and they're often excluded from parties and play dates.
- Their teacher is reporting that they're out of control at school.
- Their tantrums often prevent your family from participating in activities in and out of the house.
- They express frustration and sadness about not being able to control their anger.
Potential Cause: Anxiety
Anger and anxiety often go hand in hand, especially when that anxiety hasn't been recognized or diagnosed. Anxiety can make coping with stressful situations — like a test at school — extremely difficult, and while your child might keep it together during school hours, they might unleash that anxiety at home in the form of a tantrum.
Potential Cause: Learning Problems
If your child tends to get angry at school or while doing homework, they might have an undiagnosed learning disorder. Struggling with the work leads to frustration and anxiety, and that leads to an angry meltdown.
Potential Causes: ADHD or a Sensory Processing Disorder
Kids with ADHD can get frustrated easily, have trouble controlling their behavior, and find it hard to follow directions. The result is often anger and defiance. Similarly, children with sensory processing disorders can get overwhelmed by too much sound, activity, or stimulation, all of which leaves them feeling overwhelmed and anxious and then acting out.
How to Help: Find the Triggers
Understanding what triggers your child's tantrums is the first step in managing anger. Maybe being rushed to get ready for school is a problem; waking up earlier and prepping as much as possible the night before could help. Maybe your child always melts down when you tell them it's time to put away the iPad. Giving them warnings (i.e. "finish your game because we're leaving in 10 minutes") will help mentally prepare them for what's coming.
How to Help: Stay Calm and Consistent
Your child's tantrum can be incredibly frustrating, but try to force yourself to react calmly. Staying in control of your own emotions prevents the meltdown and their aggression from escalating and models good behavior. Don't give in to your angry child's demands, or you'll teach them that their bad behavior is an effective means to get what they want. Instead, positively reinforce good behavior, especially when they're able to calm themselves down and express their emotions in a more positive way, while giving consistent consequences for behaviors you want to discourage.
How to Help: Consult a Professional
If your child is frequently lashing out, disrupting your family, and causing you distress, it's probably time to get some professional help. Seek out a child or family therapist who can help you and your child learn how to manage anger more effectively and therefore lessen the aggressive behavior.