The Cause of Anger in Children

There are many theories about the cause of anger. I find it helpful to divide the causes of anger into two categories.

  • Things about the child’s environment such as: environmental stressors, violence, emotional abuse, neglect.
  • Things about the child such as: low frustration tolerance, poor anger management skills, poor problem solving skills, biology or genetics.
  • Children who have anger management problems usually have experienced more anger than they can handle, and/or have had their ability to develop appropriate anger management techniques impaired in some way.

    1) Environmental Stress is a cause of anger

    Children who are otherwise healthy can develop anger problems because of their environment. A child can experience more stress than they are able to handle. For example, a child who is three who experiences a car accident, loses a parent, or has to struggle to meet his basic needs because of parental neglect. Overwhelming stress in childhood can interfere in the development of frustration tolerance , problem solving skills and emotional regulation all of which are required to manage anger.

    2) Modeled Behavior is a cause of anger

    An environment that models poor anger control is likely to create a child with poor anger management skills. If family members manage their anger through violence or other aggressive methods the child may imitate what they have learned. Many children I see in my practice who have anger control problems have learned this from their parents or other caregivers.

    3) Physical Abuse or Sexual Abuse is a cause of anger

    Physical abuse of a child is certain to create excessive anger. Children who are abused learn to solve their problems through violence and force. They feel powerless during the time of their abuse and often suppress the feelings of anger at their parent, but later, when they are teens, it may resurface in violent and out of control behavior.

    5) Emotional Abuse is a cause of anger

    A family environment where anger is suppressed is also likely to create a child who has poor anger management skills. If a child is not allowed to express their feelings of anger, or is made to feel bad or guilty because of their feelings of anger, it is possible that they will have a very hard time with emotional regulation.

    6) Inconsistent Parenting is a cause of anger

    Children who experience inconsistent parenting, when a parent or multiple caregivers have different or unpredictable expectations, rules or consequences, can develop anger management problems. A child who is unsure of the rules may consistently feel frustrated by a sense of confusion and lack of control.

    7) ADHD, Bipolar Disorder Learning Disabilities or Poor Social Skills and Other Issues can be causes of anger

    A child who is from a healthy environment may still develop problems with anger. They may have some deficits that impair their ability to manage frustration and impulses, delay gratification, problem solve, or feel a sense of self control. Feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy can also be a cause of anger

    A child who is ADHD may struggle with many of these issues and this is why so many of these children also have problems with depression and anger. The expectations may be unrealistic in the classroom or other places and they become frustrated by their constant inability to meet anyone’s expectations. In addition, their problems with impulses and self control exacerbate their anger management problems.

    A child who has poor social skills may misread social cues, be constantly rejected by others and feel different and inadequate creating a level of frustration that they are not equipped to deal with.

    Other issues which might contribute to anger in children are medical issues such as a thyroid condition, seizures or bipolar disorder.

    The cause of anger must be understood to create an effective solution

    The biggest mistake I see therapists and parents make when dealing with a child’s behavior is creating solutions without understanding the cause. Every child is different.

    For example, If we think a child with bipolar disorder just has bad behavior our interventions will be insufficient and harmful to that child. Time out consequences and punishment does nothing to change the chemistry of a child’s brain.

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