75 Causes of Anger in Children

“I don’t know how you do it.” <- A phrase I often hear after responding to a call to help an angry child who is throwing desks across the room or displaying some other type of aggressive behavior.

The answer is simple: It’s not personal.

As long as care is taken to not aggravate their emotional response (i.e. confrontation, condescending attitude, sarcasm, etc.), I know that students are not mad at me. I am only seeing their reaction to something else they are experiencing. So what’s causing them to be angry?


While some misbehavior may be due to negative attention seeking, full-blown fits of rage are not due to personality clashes nor are they a result of boredom. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, anger is a secondary emotion.

There are a few reasons why anger is used as a secondary emotion.

  • Anger is an acceptable emotion in American culture. Aggression and violence are everywhere: television, music, toys, and of course video games.
  • More importantly, anger can be used as a shield to protect us from emotional distress, due to the endorphins released from our nervous system and the physical/emotional distance it puts between us and others.

The poster, Managing Your Anger: What’s Behind It, does a great job showing some of the primary emotions that are masked by anger.

According to behavior modification therapy, behavior can be altered if we change the antecedent (what comes before the behavior) or the consequence (what happens immediately after the behavior). Since anger is a result of primary emotions we need to address the antecedent or cause of that emotion.

I’ve created the following list of possible areas to explore when helping an angry child:


1. Parents arguing

2. Best friend moving

3. No one to play with

4. Divorce

5. Death

6. Change is schools

7. Parent deployment

8. Parent works long hours


9. Worry about having enough to eat

10. Worry about having housing/heat/water

11. Sick parent or family member

12. Personal illness

13. Fear of being the victim of physical/emotional/sexual abuse

14. Fear of a family member being the victim of physical/emotional/sexual abuse

15. Loved one performing a dangerous job (military, police, firefighter, etc.)

16. Worry about not having enough money to pay bills or participate in activities


17. Low academic performance

18. Underdeveloped social skills

19. Physical development/ability

20. Speech impairment

21. Comparison to high-achieving siblings

22. Sense of lack of control


23. Sexual abuse victimization

24. Let someone down

25. Feelings of responsibility for a divorce

26. Feelings of responsibility for a death

27. Hurt someone (emotionally or physically)

28. Failure to follow directions


29. Didn’t get invited to a party

30. Didn’t get chosen for a group activity

31. Didn’t make the team

32. Didn’t win the game

33. Poor grades

34. Parent breaks a promise

35. Family plans change

36. Financial limitations

Worry (preoccupation of thoughts):

37. Basic needs (food, shelter, health, etc)

38. Family substance use

39. Family mental health

40. Incarceration/legal matters (self or family)

41. Violence

42. Bullying

43. Uncertainty


44. Social – in front of peer group

45. Physical/Looks

46. Feeling “stupid”

47. Feeling “worthless”

48. Awkwardness in social situations/low social skills

49. Verbal gaffe


50. Friendships – friends of friends

51. Sibling(s)

52. Classmate(s)

53. Parents’ time/attention

54. Significant other

55. Possessions

56. Social status


57. Abandonment

58. Preferred sibling

59. Break-up of a friendship

60. Boyfriend/Girlfriend break-up

61. Rejection

62. Peer betrayal

63. Family betrayal


64. Inconsistency

65. Poor boundaries

66. Social pressure

67. Personal expectations

68. School performance

69. Biological – anxiety disorders


70. Low academic ability

71. Inability to meet the expectations of others

72. Abuse (emotional/physical/sexual)

73. Substance abuse (self or family)

74. Previous disciplinary actions

75. Inability to control behavior

Now that you’ve read a few ideas about what might be the catalyst anger in children, check out 10 Great Books to Help an Angry Child and 35 Simple Ways to Help Angry Children.

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  • Edith

    Great list , i will definately use this tool.

    • I’m glad you find the list helpful!

      Best Wishes,

  • lakshman.l

    List is very helpful and analysing a childern

    • I’m glad you found it helpful!

  • john

    Great list, definetly helpful for my kid

  • Linda

    I am currently in a treatment program for trauma & eating disorders. I’m three days in to what will probably be a 6 week process & the anger I’ve been feeling has been all consuming & unfortunately directed at my treatment team. This has given me so much insight. I already knew anger is a secondary emotion, but to have all of the underlying emotions is beyond helpful. It’s an “a-ha!” moment for me. Can’t wait to talk to my process group about this tomorrow.

    • Yay on the break through! *high five*

      Knowledge IS power!

      All my best on your journey,

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