How Children Process Anger Differently

If you are a parent, you know that sometimes your children get angry out of the blue without warning or reasonable explanation.  To understand how to help children work through anger, it first helps to know where this emotion comes from and how children process anger differently than adults.

Anger is built into the human psyche.  It is a protective response against physical and emotional injury.  Children, in particular, are vulnerable to their feelings until they develop coping skills that help them manage their emotions.  Until then, anger is an instinctive defense for children against physical and emotional pain.

The flight or fight response is located in the moving and more primitive part of the brain, and when triggered by a real or perceived threat, we humans are programmed to either attack or run away.  In reality, there are times when we must defend ourselves and attack to survive.  However, young children swimming in a world of emotion have not yet learned how to distinguish between a real threat and an angry feeling.

Very young children are particularly vulnerable because they do not have the experience to cope with their feelings and manage their stress.  Some very young children repress their feelings or express their fear and anxiety in the only way they know how, which is usually by getting angry.  By the time your child reaches school age, he should be able to recognize anger and find reasonable ways in which to react to his anger.

When your child reaches the 4th and 5th grades, he starts thinking critically and abstractly.  At this stage, your child may develop regressive behavior, such as poor impulse control, which can include striking others and temper tantrums.  He may develop headaches, stomachaches, wet the bed, and have sleeping problems.  Also, because your child begins moving into abstract operations in the fourth and fifth grades, he may have problems concentrating, focusing, and mathematically problem-solving.  And finally, immature behavior may cause your child to be alienated from friends.

It is our job, as parents, to teach our children how to cope with their emotions and skillfully use the appropriate response.  Now that you understand where this anger stems from and how children at different ages may process these complex emotions, you can start to help your children cope with their anger.