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, or they have to do something that they don't 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.


When should I be concerned about a student'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 might be something wrong with your student's behavior, it might be something wrong with the environment they are experiencing. Second, it might indicate the presence of another problem such as depression and anxiety. And finally, it might be a problem on its own.


When children being angry causes disruption to their lives, or to others in the classroom 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 accompanied by hitting, biting, or kicking.
  • Tantrums occur out of the blue.
  • Break and destroy things during a temper tantrum.
  • Get extremely angry.


What can I do to help a persistently angry student?

When a student is persistently irritable or angry, this should not be ignored as it likely indicates that something else is going on. If a teacher has concerns, there are a few things they may attempt:

  • Be supportive. It is important for teachers to let the students know what they have noticed and that they are there to help. Teachers can listen and validate without jumping immediately to problem solving, unless the student is specifically asking for help with solving a problem.
  • Talk about it. A good place for teachers to start is having a conversation with the student to see if there is something at school or at home that is causing stress. It is important to ask simple questions to understand the thoughts the student may be having about themselves and if they are feeling distressed in any way.
  • Bring the concerns to a caregiver's attention. A student's caregivers need to know of anything concerning occurring in school. Caregivers may also be able to identify if concerns are present outside of school.
  • Seek help from a school mental health professional. Support from a school mental health professional is warranted in most situations when persistent irritability or anger results in concerns.
  • Seek support. With a caregiver's permission, teachers may consult other professionals who specialize in helping children with emotional difficulties.

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.

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

If a student's irritability is infrequent, teachers may also try ignoring it and praising the behaviors they want to see. Ignoring unwanted behavior and praising desired behavior can go a long way. Teachers may also seek to understand what triggers their student'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.


Persistent anger that is too frequent, intense, present in many different contexts, discrepant from those experienced by children the same age, and that negatively interferes with classroom daily activities, may indicate the possibility of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD).


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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