Children’s Anger Has Many Causes

“I have a ten-year old,” the caller said, “and he just can’t control himself. He was playing soccer last week and completely lost his temper on the field, assaulting another boy, resulting in his being suspended from the team.” Another frantic mother called and said her 13 year old daughter “bullies her sisters and talks to me like she has absolutely no respect.” A father reported that his 14 year old son blows up at his teachers in school, is defiant, and refuses to comply with rules he doesn’t agree with.

Anger is children can be complicated and often requires a professional mental health evaluation to identify underlying emotional disturbance or other conditions such as ADD or ADHD. In other cases, the problem may be poor parenting or role-modeling earlier in the child’s life. For instance, the mother of the 13 year old girl admitted that the girl had repeatedly heard her father degrade the mother in their never ending abusive marital battles. The mother then admitted that she often talked without respect to the girl herself; in this case, the girl had learned disrespect for others well – by her own parents.Parents such this often create the problem and then seem astounded when they have to live with it in their own home.

Some angry children have not yet developed adequate coping skills, impulse control skills, or stress control skills which results in explosive behavior when things do not go their way, or they have top grapple with  with normal childhood stressors. Still others have not yet learned how to think correctly about life and life situations; their self-talk is distorted resulting in their constantly dialing up their natural angry feelings instead of knowing how to calm themselves down and deal with the situation.

Twelve year old Tina fell in this category of not being able to think correctly about her mother which resulted in constant anger and disrespect. Seems that her parents divorced several years previously and Tina made the judgment in her mind that it was wrong for her mother to date other men.  Her “self-talk” went along the lines of “She shouldn’t date other men because I don’t want her to;” “she pays more attention to his children than to me and my sisters.”

Other thinking errors include what I call a “revenge” or “get even” philosophy of life that some children have been taught. Unable to develop empathy for others, including parents, teachers, and peers, these children are often angry because they haven’t yet developed the skill of  accepting limitations in others,  and the skill of forgiving others for mistakes, misdeeds, or bad behavior toward them.

The development of anger management skills sometimes requires a trained child therapist, but often parents can teach their own children some of these skills (once they learn them personally). In our anger program, we do not do groups or classes with children under twelve because generally they are too immature to process the information in that setting. But, we do teach these skills to children and their parents in individual sessions of anger management which often includes an age-appropriate book or workbook with exercises for them (and their parents) to practice from session to session.

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