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HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

How Can I Help My Angry Child?

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

If my son doesn't get his way he becomes very rebellious. He wants to be in control, and he gets angry if he doesn't get his way. This usually lasts a half-hour to an hour. How can we get through to him that his actions are hurting him? How do we counter his actions to get him over being angry and hostile?

Answer:

I'm glad you understand that his behavior can be damaging to him and that you want to help him learn better coping skills. The reasons for displaying anger are complex and varied, but you are correct that the angry child feels out of control and uses anger as a way to convey that.

Boys historically tend to be more overtly or physically aggressive when angry, and girls tend to be more verbally or relationally aggressive.

Research shows that aggressive/angry children:

  • Notice more negative cues in social situations than positive
  • Under-perceive their own aggression and over-perceive aggression in others
  • Use more aggressive strategies to cope than verbal or problem-solving techniques
  • Express more negative emotions than their peers

Anger is a normal and healthy emotion, but some children need help expressing it appropriately. The angrier a child gets the more they get rejected. They become viewed as "bad." This vicious cycle results in the child being more isolated, depressed and angry.

Finding out what triggers the anger is helpful. Some children are perfectionists. Some feel disconnected from their peers or family. How negative feelings are modeled or tolerated at home is also an influence.

Learning how to identify and use words to express what he really is experiencing - sadness, frustration, anxiety - rather than just reactingcan be useful in learning how to cope. When he knows more about what he is feeling he can begin to have better problem-solving strategies. Sometimes recognizing the warning signs, such as body sensations, can help him learn to relax before he reacts.

For helpful information for teachers, parents and children, go to Get Your ANGRIES Out for program activities. Also consider counseling to learn what will best meet the needs of your family.


Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

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