Is My Child’s Anger Normal? Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Are you wondering if your child’s emotional tantrums and anger is normal? You aren’t alone. Most young children have occasional temper tantrums. It is normal for a child to become angry when frustrated or when not wanting to do what they are told. This is especially true for younger children who are still trying to develop their abilities to recognize how they feel or how to vocalize what they feel or want. Their only way to communicate is through their actions.
If your child is having frequent outbursts and can’t control their anger most of the time, it may be time to be concerned. Some signs to look for are the frequency of the outbursts, the age of the child (over 7 or 8), are the actions of your child becoming dangerous to him/herself or others, is the behavior interfering with school, is the child having difficulty getting along with his/her peers, are the outbursts causing conflict within the family, is there escalating defiance at home or school?
Emotional acting out is usually a symptom of another problem. It is important to understand what is behind the acting out. Children with ADHD have difficulty controlling their behavior. Children with anxiety have a difficult time coping with stressful situations. Anger may help them avoid the situation that is causing the distress. Trauma, abuse, neglect, undiagnosed learning disorders, or other stresses may cause uncontrolled anger. Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a Harvard Medical School professor who specializes in mental health care in a school setting says, most at risk are kids with ADHD who’ve also experienced trauma.
Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) is defined as short episodes of intense, uncontrollable anger or aggression with very little or no apparent cause. What seems like small, inconsequential issues to others, are seemingly blown out of proportion by the child exhibiting the IED. They may become argumentative and/or physically aggressive. They are overcome with anger and are not able to control their behavior. Often, after their rage is spent, they feel a sense of relief, but will also feel ashamed of their behavior.
When dealing with a child who is having an IED episode, it is important for you to stay calm and in control. Praise your child for appropriate behavior. Help your child practice appropriate choices when they are not upset. Develop a system of time outs and positive rewards. Look for triggers and work out plans to avoid them. There is not a specific medication for IED, but medications, including antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can sometimes help, along with cognitive behavioral therapy.
If your child is having frequent angry outbursts that are causing conflict within your family it is important to get professional help for your child and your family.