Anger in children
Children are usually never angry about nothing, no matter how trivial or silly it may sound to parents. If you can take time to understand what is going on, you are well placed to help your child understand how to get what they need without hurting others, and how to express anger in ways that don’t cause others distress. They also need to understand that anger is normal, we all have it, but it’s how we show it that counts.
Anger in adolescents
While disagreements and moods are normal during adolescence in particular, it’s important that parents be able to recognise what is and is not normal behaviour. Arguments with your adolescent are probably common occurrences as they begin to seek independence.
Behaviours such as violence towards you or another of your children, missing school, getting into fights, constant and bitter arguments and run-ins with the police are all signs of behaviour that has gone beyond normal.
If you see any of these behaviours, it’s important that you seek help for your child. The school counselor might be a good place to start for a teenager.
Signs to look for (symptoms)
With a child or teenager, anger is usually apparent and explosive. By adulthood, most of us have learnt to manage this.
If you have ever felt so furious you have not been able to control yourself, or if anyone has asked if you have an anger problem then you probably do.
Other signs of being affected by anger could be less obvious and include:
- always being irritable, little things make you angry and that is your main response to situations
- when you’re angry you’re aggressive or nasty
- you may feel depressed and avoid being around friends or family
- you may use drugs or alcohol to make you feel more relaxed or calm.
If you fear you might harm or kill yourself it is vital that you seek help immediately.
How the doctor can help
At some point you will decide you need to talk to someone about your anger, or your child’s anger. Starting with your doctor is helpful as they can recommend counsellors and therapists to talk to.
Anger may be a symptom of another mental health condition, so it’s important that your doctor spends time with you to get a full understanding of the difficulties you have had, both from you and your family’s perspective.
Your doctor will also help with any related issues, such as drug or alcohol use, that may be causing you concern.
Treatment of anger can involve a number of aspects, each of which can be tailored to your individual need. For most, talking therapies, which help you understand and help resolve what is causing anger, are positive places to start. Whether it’s for you, your teenager or child, there are age appropriate services that your doctor will advise you about.
Talking therapies and counselling
These are non-medical treatments that address your emotional needs such as your thinking, behaviour, relationships and environment. This involves talking with a trained professional who uses clinically researched talking therapies, to assess and help you understand what has happened, and to help you make positive changes in your life.
If you are suffering from depression, antidepressant medication in conjunction with therapy has proven effective.
You should be told what effects you should notice from any medication, receive clear instructions about how you should take them and what precautions are necessary.
If you are pregnant or breast feeding no medication is entirely safe.
The term complementary therapy is generally used to indicate therapies and treatments that differ from conventional western medicine and that may be used to complement and support it.
Certain complementary therapies may enhance your life and help you to maintain wellbeing. In general, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, exercise, relaxation, massage, mirimiri and aromatherapy have all been shown to have some effect in alleviating mental distress.
It is also really important to look after your physical wellbeing. Make sure you get an annual check up with your doctor. Being in good physical health will also help your mental health.
Thanks to Janet Peters, registered psychologist, for reviewing this content. Date last reviewed: September 2014.
Resources & Links
Managing our anger
A handbook of tools for parents and caregivers helping children and young people through angry times.
Healthline is staffed by an experienced team who can provide you with health information and advice on care.
Family Violence information line
Call 0800 456 450 for information as well as services in your own region for support around domestic violence.
Need help right now? Lifeline Aotearoa’s helpline and textline provides 24/7, confidential support.
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