When Children React in Anger

The child who doesn’t like an instruction or limitation may reveal frustration outwardly, sometimes in a small way and other times with downright revenge. One mom said, “I can tell when my thirteen-year-old son is having a bad attitude. He becomes more abrupt in his actions and words. His roughness sends a message that says, ‘I’m not happy with you.’

“It’s important to remember two rules of engagement when confronted by a child’s anger. First, don’t be afraid of your child’s emotions. Sometimes children use outbursts as a form of self-protection to prevent parents from challenging them. View the display of emotion as a smoke screen and look past it to the heart of the issue. You may not confront in the heat of emotion but don’t let your child’s anger prevent you from correcting your child. Parents too often see the emotion as a personal attack and react to it, losing any real benefit that could come from the
interaction. That brings us to…

Rule of engagement #2: Don’t’ use your own anger to overpower your child’s anger. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away anger.” When you begin to lose it, take a break. Come back later and work on it some more: “I’ve been thinking about the way you responded to me earlier when I asked you to do your homework. I’d like to share an observation that might be helpful for you. It seems that you believe you ought to be able to wait and do your homework just before bed or in the morning before you go to school. Is that what you’re saying? One of the values I’m trying to teach you is that self-discipline often means we work first and play later. That’s one of the reasons I require you to do your homework early every day. I’m trying to teach you an important value. I know that you may not agree with me, but I want you to know why I’m asking you to do homework before dinner.”

Allowing emotions to settle first can bring opportunities for dialogue later, instead of turning the present issue into a battleground. Realize that kids will go away thinking about what you’ve said, even if their initial response looks as if they haven’t heard you. This is especially true for teenagers. Prepare what you’re going to say and choose your timing carefully without getting caught up in the emotion of the moment. For more on how to help children change attitudes, read chapter six in the book, ‘Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids.’



Scientists are not sure what causes ADHD, although many studies suggest that genes play a large role. Like many other health issues, ADHD probably results from a combination of factors. In addition to genetics, researchers are looking at possible environmental factors, and are studying how brain injuries, nutrition, and the social environment might contribute to ADHD. Results from several international studies of twins show that ADHD often runs in families. Children with ADHD who carry a particular version of a certain gene have thinner brain tissue in the areas of the brain associated with attention. This NIMH research showed that the difference was not permanent, however, and as children with this gene grew up, the brain developed to a normal level of thickness. Their ADHD symptoms also improved.


What Cues do You Give Your Kids?

An Action Point is the point when you stop talking and start acting or the point when children know you mean business. How do they know? You give them cues and your children know what those cues are. If you are saying the same thing over and over again, how does your child know when the Action Point is near? Think back on your own childhood. How did you know when your dad or mom meant business? Maybe they used your middle name or started moving toward the kitchen where that special utensil was kept. They might have gotten out of the chair or started moving toward you or given you that look. For many parents, angry words or a harsh tone of voice become the cue children look for. Unfortunately, this harshness creates distance in the relationship. Look for ways to tighten your Action Point without anger. Harshness isn’t necessary but firmness is. Firmness with children is an important part of the teaching process. Some parents associate firmness with an authoritarian style of parenting. And it certainly can be. We’re not suggesting that you become a sergeant with your kids. Even a relational parenting style often requires a point in which that child knows that the discussion is over and it’s time for action.

For more on how to help children understand firmness, check out the first section of , “Eight Secrets to Highly Effective Parenting.”


Signs & Symptoms

Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are the key behaviors of ADHD. It is normal for all children to be inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive sometimes, but for children with ADHD, these behaviors are more severe and occur more often. To be diagnosed with the disorder, a child must have symptoms for 6 or more months and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.

Children who have symptoms of inattention may:

  • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from
    one activity to another
  • Have difficulty focusing on one thing
  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing
    something enjoyable
  • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or
    learning something new
  • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things
    (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
  • Not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
  • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Struggle to follow instructions.

Children who have symptoms of hyperactivity may:

  • Fidget and squirm in their seats
  • Talk nonstop
  • Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
  • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
  • Be constantly in motion
  • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.

Children who have symptoms of impulsivity may:

  • Be very impatient
  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
  • Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
  • Often interrupt conversations or others’ activities.