Children may have problems dealing with the feeling of anger. In some children, this might constitute a serious disorder.
Most of us have experienced the feeling of anger at some point in our lives. Most of us have also learned to deal with that feeling appropriately. Some children, however, may experience difficulties dealing with their anger in a productive manner. It is not the fact that they feel anger that is the problem. It is the way that they deal with it that causes a difficulty. These children will have problems with what is termed anger overload. Parents may describe these children as usually kind and gentle kids, who occasionally have anger responses that are uncontrollable.
These anger responses will occur as a result of a seemingly small incident. A parent may say “no” to the child or the child may lose a game he/she is playing. The resulting tantrum may involve kicking, hitting, yelling, and biting, and will be out of proportion to the cause of the tantrum. The child’s anger may last for an hour or longer, with the parent unable to pacify the child or distract him/her from the tantrum.
Generally, this kind of problem can be dealt with through behavior modification techniques. Parents will need to learn to look for the specific precursors that lead to these outbursts and try to steer children away from these incidences. The child can also be taught other ways to deal with the anger he/she feels.
For children who seem to be angry most of the time, anger overload may not be the problem. These children may be diagnosed with either Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or Conduct Disorder (CD). All children generally show some signs of opposition to adults, especially as they enter adolescence; however, a disorder may be present if the oppositional behavior is evident for a sustained period of time. These children are different from those who just experience anger overload. Although parents may describe children who have tantrums as kind and gentle most of the time, parents of children with ODD or CD will probably not describe their child in this way. Instead, their child frequently talks back to them and seems angry most of the time.
Signs that there is a greater problem than just anger overload in small children will generally begin with frequent extended fits and rages that last for long periods of time. Children will have problems settling down from these fits and may even hurt themselves or others during the fit. Parents who try to restrain a child during a fit may be hurt themselves. This behavior may interfere with everyday life, making it impossible to take the child shopping or to a restaurant for fear of a fit occurring.
Children with an anger disorder will be easily annoyed and argue frequently with adults, especially parents. They will tend to blame others for their behavior. They will also have problems developing friendships with other children, because they will engage in rough play or verbal abuse that scares others.
As the problem progresses, children may become destructive of property, destroying things during one of their fits or vandalizing property just for fun. They may also threaten and even demonstrate cruelty to people and to animals. Finally, they may show a keen interest in fire and especially in setting fires.
Diagnosing an anger disorder will involve a psychiatric evaluation of the child. The psychologist will want the parent to keep track of episodes of the offending behavior and will want to witness the behavior as well. This is often difficult, because children may hold back their anger in front of strangers, only revealing it to people they feel most comfortable with.
A psychologist will also conduct tests to look for underlying disorders that might affect the anger problem. These include Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorders. Techniques are available for treating these problems.
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