by Dr. Tali Shenfield, Clinical Psychologist

Every parent wants to protect their children, teach them to protect themselves, and help them redirect their own outbursts before they become dangerous and aggressive. We want to know that when our children become angry, we can discipline them appropriately and effectively and that we can help them resolve their conflicts constructively. It is important to identify children who may need professional help or may be at risk for future problems related to anger and aggression.

If your child is being victimized and does not have a way to ward off a bully, he needs immediate help. You can spot the warning signs by noticing if your child is getting hurt or bruised, appears scared, has nightmares and doesn’t want to go to school. Your child is may be a victim of bullying if he or she speaks negatively of him or herself, appears to be socially isolated, or talks of being put down physically and/or verbally at school. You can help by instructing your child to stand up for himself, by teaching him to say ‘Stop hurting me/hitting me/pushing me’, or a simple and firm ‘NO!’ if he is preverbal. Teach him to speak firmly, stand tall and walk away from his bully. It is a good idea to inform a teacher at school so that he can be supervised when you are not around.

Sometimes, children who are being victimized turn to aggression as a means to express themselves. Many young children also lash out because of low self-esteem, isolation, and a sense of failure and anxiety. Sadness and depression is often linked with anger in young children. Young children also tend to act out of angry defiance to assert independence when they feel unimportant and lacking control over their lives. It is important not to dismiss their transgressions, because childhood-onset anger and aggression is correlated with serious problems later in life. In fact, parents who choose not to react might be ignoring symptoms of potential childhood psychiatric disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder. The problem may become more persistent and “can be part of a developmental trajectory leading to adolescent delinquency” (Barry and Lochman, 2004).

I assume that you are reading this because you know you need to be involved in shaping your child’s social behavior. So what should you do and which reactions should you avoid? It is absolutely necessary to remind your child what kinds of behaviors are unacceptable and to teach them the ramifications of breaking the rules. With both younger and older children, it is important to understand that anger is not ‘bad’. It is not the child that is bad, but the behavior. As mentioned above, it is crucial that you do not ignore their outburst. Help them communicate how they feel. Do not act out of impulse and verbally berate your child or become physical. Not only are these strategies ineffective, they teach your child deplorable ways of coping with problems. You want to model proper behavior and teach him or her that every problem has a solution that can be arrived at with a calm and clear mind. Reasoning works better with older children, whereas younger children who act aggressively out of anger need a time out so that they do not hurt themselves or others. You can help both younger and older children to cool down by acknowledging how they feel and instructing them in techniques such as deep breathing and relaxation. With young children, it is usually beneficial just to stand nearby, watch them when you expect them to get stirred up and talk to them about how they feel before they escalate. An unexpected warm touch might remind the child that they have you at their side. It is helpful to remind both younger and older children of the strengths they possess and strategies at their disposal to help them work through their problems. By doing so, you are building up the child’s self-esteem and encouraging him to resolve his own conflicts in ways that are not hurtful.

If your child appears to have problems managing his emotions on a regular basis, this might be a good time to consider professional help. There are intensive programs which help older children and adolescents, in groups and one-on-one. These programs encourage a child to identify and express how he or she is feeling, to take another’s perspective and to practice role playing in order to learn techniques to scale down violent outbursts. They usually include components on problem-solving, negotiation and resisting peer pressure. There are also professional-led workshops and classes for parents. They teach you how to talk to your child, what to look out for and how to behave in the moment so that you don’t have to lose your cool. It is important not to underestimate your influence and the role you have in preventing your child from going down the trajectory that leads him or her to potential academic failure, delinquency, substance abuse and other deleterious behaviors.

If your child's anger manifests through intense screaming, kicking, hitting, or biting, he or she may have so called "anger overload" condition. I recommend you to read my article on anger overload "Does your child suffer from Anger Overload".

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Tali Shenfield is a Clinical Director of Richmond Hill Psychology Center. She holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Toronto and licensed as a Child Psychologist by the College of Psychologists of Ontario, Canadian Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology, and Canadian Psychological Association. When she has free time from psychological assessments and psychotherapy, Dr. Shenfield enjoys writing articles for her psychology and parenting blog. You are welcome to visit her blog and follow Dr. Tali Shenfield on Twitter at @DrShenfield and on Facebook at