Anger in kids can range in expression from mild to severe, from a “temper tantrum” to physical abuse or property destruction. As kids grow up, they learn to control their emotions. They experience things for the first time and might act with little regard for consequences until it is too late. When kids act on their anger, they might not be aware of any alternative modes of expressing their feelings.
What is Anger?
Anger is often an emotional response to something going wrong, usually a lack of control over a particular situation. When a child acts out by throwing a tantrum or punching a hole in the wall, they are attempting to regain control over a situation. The child uses anger to make their needs known and coerce others into giving in to their needs.
However, remember that anger is an emotion and not necessarily defined by action. A child might feel anger yet hold back from expressing anger through a tantrum or other physical act. When a child expresses their anger and harms others or “causes a scene,” this might mean that the anger is out of control, fueling the behavior.
We don’t want our children to assume that anger or frustration are invalid emotions or “bad.” When kids internalize their anger, they might bottle up their feelings, never assert themselves to others, speak up for themselves when wronged, or even begin to punish themselves. Our goal is to guide our children to healthy expressions of their anger by validating what their anger is communicating and teaching our kids how to meet their needs without resorting to intense behaviors.
All Behavior is Communication
When we look at all behavior as a form of communication, we can start to unpack the root causes of our child’s outbursts. When kids engage in intense outbursts—arguing, cussing, destroying property, or even abusing others—we as parents feel crushed and devastated. We might feel like we’ve failed as parents or that our kids are hopeless and headed on the wrong path in their lives.
By shifting our focus to look at what is really happening here or what this behavior communicates, we can find solutions for the current crisis in our homes. Anger often acts as a mask for a feeling of being wronged or feeling sad. The core of anger is often vulnerability, fear, and a lack of control. As parents, we can look for these hidden feelings behind the outbursts, no matter how severe. Rather than focusing on the results and the actions, we can get to the roots of our child’s anger to help them meet their needs in a healthy manner.
Questions to Consider When Kids Are Angry
Investigating what is really happening can give us clues as to what is driving these intense behavioral episodes. Consider some of the following:
- Has the teen ended a romantic relationship recently?
- Have they had a disruption to a meaningful friendship?
- Have they experienced other changes to important relationships recently?
- Death of a family member or friend
- Friend moving away
- Changes in parental relationships (i.e., divorce, custody changes, etc.)
- Is there any other excessive behavior occurring?
- Video gaming
- Social media or excessive phone and internet usage
- Isolation for long periods
- Drug or alcohol use
- Are there underlying medical or mental health issues occurring that could explain outbursts?
- Chronic pain can cause irritability and a feeling of losing control
- Bipolar disorder can cause intense mood swings
By looking for clues like this, we can pinpoint what is driving the anger and any outbursts. Some reactions may be sudden, like getting “bad news” and behaving aggressively in response, or anger can build over time, with a teen reaching boiling points throughout the day as things build up. As parents look for the primary influences in their child’s life, they can strategize to guide their children to deal with the problems they face.
Keeping Our Own Emotions in Check
In the meantime, parents might struggle with their own emotions in response to seeing intense outbursts. Seeing kids struggling with issues and displaying excessive behaviors can cause parents to feel sad, frustrated, angry, guilty, or any other devastating emotion. These emotions are understandable! When we see kids suffering, hurting themselves or others, we might feel like we failed them as parents or did something wrong. Shame can prevent us from seeking help as we feel alone in our pain.
Keeping our own emotions in check can help keep us centered to help our kids. Not taking these things personally can be challenging, especially if our kid is yelling or arguing with us. By taking care of ourselves, we can be there for our kids when they struggle the most.
When kids display challenging behaviors fueled by anger, parents might feel devastated and heartbroken by such extreme changes in their kids. Knowing that our kids are likely struggling with something can give us some perspective on the roots of their anger. Yet, knowing that our child is in pain can also make us feel sad or upset, as we want to shield our children from pain. Dealing with these outbursts or tantrums can leave us feeling alone or ashamed about our abilities as parents. Remember that you are not alone! Parents like you have dealt with or are dealing with similar struggles with their kids. Reach out for support today! Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center has created a Facebook group called “Parenting teens that Struggle” to connect parents as they give one another support and advice. If your child continues to struggle, treatment might be the next right step for them. Call Fire Mountain today at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest.