Menu

How to Intervene if Your Child Is Angry or Aggressive

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 18, 2021

Your young child’s tantrums are a normal part of their development. Most children will begin having tantrums between 1 and 4 years old. These tantrums may happen from 5 to 9 times per week. They should start to happen less often as they get older. You may also notice that they are less intense as your child grows up. 

Some children will continue to experience angry outbursts. These outbursts might seem to become more out-of-control and disruptive. It may seem overwhelming, but there are tools to help them through these intense and uncomfortable feelings.

What Causes Angry or Aggressive Children?

You may think, why is my child so angry? Children don’t have the same pressures that adults have, so you may be confused by their behavior. But children have their own sets of stressors and challenges. Some of the reasons they could be showing this type of behavior include:

  • Stress from seeing family members getting angry at each other
  • Issues with friends
  • Being bullied
  • Feeling overwhelmed by school
  • Having intense stress, anxiety, or fear
  • Experiencing extreme hormonal changes during puberty

Other mental health issues. Often, disruptive behavior happens alongside other psychiatric disorders. Research shows that up to 35% of children with attention deficit disorder ( ADHD), 62% of children with anxiety disorders, and 45% of children with mood disorders will also have aggressive and angry outbursts. Helping your child with psychological challenges will also help them navigate their angry feelings.

How Can You Help Your Child When They Get Angry?

Help Them Become Mindful‌

The first step is to help them recognize when they feel angry. Working together with them to spot the early signs of their anger can be helpful. Together, you can try to slow down their reaction and give them more choices in how they respond to their feelings.

Help them identify their physical responses to their feelings. Some things they may experience are:

  • Faster heartbeats
  • Tense muscles
  • Clenching in the teeth
  • Making fists
  • Churning stomach

‌Tips for Working Through Anger‌

Once you and your child can identify their early stages of anger, you can more easily figure out the causes. Then, you can talk about strategies for when those triggers or situations arise.

Some strategies you can talk to your child about include:

  • Counting to 10
  • Turning away from whatever is causing them to feel angry or upset
  • Remembering to breathe and consciously trying to breathe deeply
  • Clenching and unclenching their fists to release anger
  • Asking for support from a friend or family member
  • Getting away from the situation that’s causing them to feel upset and calming down in private

Encourage Positivity‌

Help your child to lead an active and positive life. Research shows that staying active and fit can lessen anxiety, depression, and stress. This is especially true for young people. Encourage your child to play more, or take them on runs or walks.

Remember to give your child positive feedback when you see them trying to shift their behavior. No matter how small their achievements are in regulating their emotions, your encouragement can mean a lot to them and help build their confidence.

Seeking Help for Your Child

If you’re concerned your child might be a danger to themselves or others, it may be time to get professional help. Some examples of where to seek help are:

  • Your child’s regular pediatrician or general practitioner
  • The school nurse
  • Children’s therapists in your area

They may suggest helpful therapy options like parent management training and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Parent Management Training‌

Research shows that scolding and corporal punishment — like spanking — may increase angry and disruptive behaviors in children. The goal of parent management training (PMT) is to:

  • Identify what causes these aggressive behaviors.
  • Praise appropriate behaviors.
  • Communicate the correct courses of action.
  • Ignore negative behaviors.
  • Use consistent consequences for disruptive behaviors.

PMT is usually taught to the parent privately.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach that teaches emotional regulation and problem-solving skills. Within CBT, your child will learn interventions and structured strategies to change how they think, feel, and behave.

These strategies may include:

  • Identifying the causes and symptoms of their aggressive behavior
  • Learning strategies to regulate this behavior
  • Learning problem-solving techniques
  • Rehearsing more positive social techniques

Your child can participate in CBT with a trained mental health practitioner.

If you’re worried about your child’s aggressive behavior, talk to their doctor. They can help you decide if professional therapy is the best option for you and your family. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology: “Behavioral Interventions for Anger, Irritability, and Aggression in Children and Adolescents.”

NHS: “Helping your child with anger issues.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info