What is typical anger?

Children and adolescents get angry just like adults do – anger is normal. Typically, anger goes away in under 30 minutes. But when a child's anger is frequent (eg, temper tantrums many times a week), or lasts for long periods (eg, lasting many hours instead of minutes), it can take away from their experiences. Additionally, children often have fewer tools to cope with feelings of anger than adults do, so when they are angry it has a greater potential to impact everyone's day.

For instance, we expect children under 5 to have tantrums, particularly when they want something, or they have to do something that they do not want to do. Crying, yelling, stomping, kicking, rolling on the floor—these are all typical for these young children. This type of anger is intermittent, and it is provoked by something conditional.

Full-blown tantrums typically do not persist into the primary school years, but that does not mean that children and adolescents will not get angry from time to time.

Adolescents tend to direct anger towards caregivers, since venting is less risky at home where they feel most secure. Forming strong peer relationships is a high priority for adolescents and if they are irritable and blow up at people, others generally do not want to be their friends. Since caregivers have control over so much of children's lives, they're very easy targets for irritation and anger.


When should I be concerned about a child's anger?

Irritability, which is the name we give to the proneness to get angry, may indicate a number of issues. First, it may be an expected response to deal with injustice, prejudice, discrimination, abuse, or neglect. So, before thinking there may be something wrong with your child's behavior, it may have something wrong with the environment they are experiencing. Second, it may indicate the presence of another problem such as depression and anxiety. And finally, it may be a problem on its own.

When children being angry causes disruption to their lives, or to others around them, due either to frequency or intensity, there is cause for concern. Irritability is typically an indicator of something that is going on in a child's life, and that they need support. Irritability often accompanies:

  • Persistent sadness.
  • Feeling anxious.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Academic difficulties.
  • Trauma.


Childhood anger is generally a cause for concern when:

  • Mood is irritable with peers and in the classroom.
  • Anger persists for a long time.
  • Anger feelings are frequent.
  • Tantrums are accompanied by hitting, biting, or kicking.
  • Tantrums occur out of the blue.
  • They break and destroy things during a temper tantrum.
  • They get extremely angry.


What can I do to help a persistently angry child?

Caregivers know their children best. If you are a caregiver, and your child seems unusually irritable, something may be going on that is driving the behavior. So, there are a few things you may attempt:

  • Talk to your child's teacher. If you notice your child is having anger difficulties, reach out to their teacher. Speaking with the child's teacher can help determine if their struggles are also happening at school, if anything has been tried to remedy their struggles at school, and to learn if there are additional ways of supporting your child.
  • Talk to your child. By asking simple questions, try to understand what they are experiencing and if there is something happening at school or at home that is causing them stress. Listen to what they say before jumping into problem solving, or ask them if they need help with what to do.
  • Teach your child how to deal with stressful emotions . You can help your child deal with stressful emotions by helping them to take deep breaths, seek comfort with their favorite toys or go to a quiet and safe place when they feel upset.
  • Avoid being critical or excessively punishing your child when they are irritable or tantruming. Most of the time, being critical and giving punishments only increase a child's anger. When children are persistently irritable, this behavior usually indicates that something else is going on.

If your child's irritability is infrequent, you may also try ignoring it and praising the behaviors you want to see. Ignoring unwanted behavior and praising desired behavior can go a long way. You may also seek to understand what triggers your child's irritability:

  • Having little control over impulses.
  • Difficulties with solving problems.
  • Having trouble waiting for rewards or gratification.
  • Communicating wishes and needs to adults.
  • Knowing what is appropriate in a given situation.
  • Soothing themselves when upset.


If you have already tried some or most of these suggestions and the problems your child is facing persist, it may be time to seek out professional support.

Anger that is too frequent, intense, present in many different contexts, discrepant from that experienced by children the same age, and that negatively interferes with your child's and family's daily lives, may indicate the possibility of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD).


What kind of professional support can I seek out for help?

It is not unusual that some caregivers feel embarrassed, inadequate, or guilty if their child is struggling with persistent anger. But, if you are concerned about your child's persistent anger, support and guidance are available now. Communicate concerns during and between visits with your child's doctor.

Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful. These professionals also work with caregivers so that they know how to support their children outside of therapy sessions.

The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).


Where to find more information

Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].

If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.

You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.



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