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My Child Seems Angrier Than Other Kids: What’s Wrong?

Dr. Seth Meyers

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Deep down, all parents want to believe that their little ones are happy and healthy. Accordingly, if you’re a parent who feels that your kid seems a little angrier than he or she should, you’re probably responding to a legitimate problem. In other words, it’s good for you to worry about this issue, and there are a few possible factors to rule out before deciding that it will just “go away.” Notice that I switch pronouns (he, she) throughout the article because both boys and girls can display the same types of anger problems.

Is he getting bullied?

If you see an uptick in anger, the culprit may be bullying. If your son seems angrier than usual, he may be getting bullied at school by one or more other students. Those students could be boys or girls; they could be in the same grade, they could be older or younger; and they could be bullying your son in the school bathroom or cafeteria, on the playground or on the way to or from school. To find out whether he has been getting bullied, ask him yourself; have your co-parent (if you have one) ask him; and call the school to ask a teacher and guidance counselor to ask him. The point: One person asking once will rarely uncover the truth.

Is she feeling anxious or depressed?

Depression in kids often looks different than it does in adults. With kids, their depression often makes them appear irritated or agitated. If they are feeling anxious, they may get nervous by any number of triggers: socializing on the playground; eating in the cafeteria; walking to school; or taking the bus. With kids, they are more likely to tell you what’s really going on if you ask them a question and give them multiple choice answers.

Does she have a chemical imbalance that calls for a psychiatric evaluation?

Some children are more prone to anger based on their personality and other biological factors (the chemical makeup in their brain). If your child is angry often and has always been prone to angry outbursts, you can call a local mental health clinic and ask for a psychiatric evaluation. The evaluation would involve a licensed psychiatrist asking you and your child a lot of questions about mood, behavior at home, and behavior at school. In some cases, the psychiatrist will recommend that the child try a daily psychiatric medication; in other cases, the psychiatrist will say the child probably doesn’t need meds, and the child will be referred for psychotherapy instead.

Important reminders about anger

As frustrating as an angry kid can be for the parents, never punish your child for his feelings. In other words, you punish the acting out behavior when the kid is angry, but you don’t punish the kid for feeling angry. I always tell families I’m working with the same thing: “Anger by itself is fine and even healthy in doses, but it’s the way the child expresses the anger that may be a problem.” One final comment to parents: Parents often get disillusioned in managing an angry child, telling themselves that their poor child will always be angry and that his life will suffer because of it. The good news is that many children who have anger problems when they’re young work those problems out by the time they’re older, so don’t worry that the problem will last forever. In fact, providing the most empathetic and helpful feedback when they do get angry may make all the difference.

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Dr. Seth Meyers

Dr. Seth Meyers is a licensed clinical psychologist and author in Los Angeles, California. He specializes in parenting and relationships, and he is trained in multiple evidence-based parenting interventions. Dr. Seth earned his B.A. in psychology from Vassar College and earned his Psy.D. in clinical psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. He appears regularly on television programs, including Good Morning America, 20/20, ABC News, The Doctors, Nancy Grace, Dr. Drew and others. Dr. Seth is the author of Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.