Why Does My Child Refuse to Talk When They’re Angry?

Written By

Shannon Wassenaar
April 10, 2024

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

There are days when I come home from school in a terrible mood. When my mom asks me what’s wrong, I feel like I’m going to explode. 

I yell, “Nothing!” and stomp off to my room. I slam the door loudly so she’ll know how upset I am. I pull the stuffies off my bed and throw them angrily across the room.

I’m expecting her to barge into my room and shout: “What’s your problem! Why are you so grumpy?!”. 

But she doesn’t. Instead, I hear her sitting outside my door. After a few minutes, she gently knocks and asks to come inside. 

I agree, but continue to stay silent. I furrow my brow so she knows I’m still mad. 

I’m expecting her to say, “Look at this mess! Clean it up!” I imagine she’s going to lecture me about slamming the door, throwing my toys and being rude.

But she doesn’t. Instead, she sits beside me, wrapping me in the crook of her arm.

I feel calmer with each passing moment as we sit together in silence.

I wish I could tell her that sometimes I’m so mad I can’t talk because I can’t think straight. I wish I could explain this to her… but I don’t know how. I need her help. 

I need to know that no matter what I’m feeling, it’s okay not to talk. And, no matter what I’m going through, I don’t have to face it alone. 

Use our 30+ page printable to help your child with their anger!

Child Sleeping

Why Angry Kids Won’t (and Can’t) Talk 

Here are three common reasons why kids won’t (or can’t) talk when they’re upset: 

The speaking part of the brain goes “offline.”
When children experience strong emotions like anger, their brains activate the fight-flight-freeze stress response, which impairs their ability to access the “thinking brain.” So even if they wanted to tell you what’s wrong, the part of their brain that thinks and communicates is “offline.”

They don’t know how to talk about what they’re feeling.
Talking about your feelings is a learned skill. Some kids don’t know how to evaluate their feelings, let alone articulate what they are feeling. 

They don’t feel safe to express themselves. 
Talking about emotions is vulnerable. Sometimes, when kids refuse to talk, it can be a sign that they don’t feel safe to express themselves. If a child has been teased, mocked, punished, dismissed or judged for getting upset, they learn that expressing their feelings isn’t safe. 

Related Posts: How to Discipline an Angry Child

What to Do When Angry Kids Don’t Want to Talk

It makes sense that parents want to know why their child is upset. But, forcing kids to talk, especially using a harsh tone of voice, can hinder communication and ruin the level of safety in the relationship. 

Instead, focus on calm and compassionate responses that signal to your child: 

  • I hear you.
  • I respect your voice. 
  • I respect your need for space/time.
  • I am here for you.

Here are some scripts to help parents offer compassionate responses when angry kids don’t want to talk. 

When a child screams: “I don’t want to talk about it!”
You can say: “I hear you. You don’t have to talk right now. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk when I’m upset. When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here.”

When an angry child says: “GO AWAY!”
You can say: “It sounds like you want to be alone. I’m going to come and check on you in 10 minutes.”

When a child runs away from you.
You can say: “I can see you need some space. I’m going sit outside your bedroom until you’re ready to talk.”

When an angry child says: “I don’t know!”
You can say: Whatever’s going on, we will figure this out together when you’re ready.”

Caregivers need to be the ones to follow up with an angry child – we can’t leave this responsibility in the hands of our kids. We need to be the ones responsible for checking back in and repairing, resolving or reconnecting with an angry child.  

If your child continues to refuse to tell you why they’re upset, remember this: knowing what’s upsetting our kids isn’t as important as the responses we give them when they’re upset. The messages they receive when they’re angry can have a greater impact on a child than the situations in their life that are frustrating them. 

How to Promote Communication With Kids

Even if a child doesn’t want to talk when they’re angry, parents can still promote open communication. Using these strategies can make kids feel more emotionally aware, comfortable, and safe to share their feelings over time.  

Tune into your child

Instead of taking their reactions or responses to your questions personally, tune into your child and their needs. Do they need space, comfort or silence? If they ask for space, give them space (but always ensure that you circle back to them). If they need comfort, give them a squeeze or hold them close. The bottom line is to let them know that whatever they need to help them find their calm, you can provide that for them without judgment. 

Name and validate their feelings

Narrating out loud what you notice can help your child build emotional awareness and literacy. Hearing you narrate back what they’re feeling gives them language to understand their experience. Let your child know you acknowledge what they’re feeling even if you don’t fully understand why. Validation helps them feel heard and understood. When an angry child feels understood, they’re much more inclined to feel safe to come talk to a parent the next time they feel upset. 

Connect through stories and check-ins

Share a time you felt angry, and relate it back to your child. Connection through sameness has the power to promote trust between a parent and a child, which can open the lines of communication. 

“I remember there were days when I came home from school where I felt really angry, and I didn’t know why. Sometimes, I just needed space.”

It can also help to make checking in with your child a regular part of your routine. The goal of these check-ins is to create a safe space for your child to share feelings with you. 

“What was the best part of your day, and what was the trickiest part of your day.”

The key to promoting communication is approaching kids with gentleness and compassion. Speaking loudly or raising your voice, even if unintentional, can make a child feel threatened. Maintain a gentle, calm tone instead. This helps promote emotional safety, making kids feel more inclined to talk. 

How to Help Kids Release Anger Without Talking

When our kids won’t or can’t talk to us when they’re upset, we can still play an important role in helping them release their feelings in healthy ways. Here are a few practical ways kids can release their anger without talking about it. 

Draw it out

When children are angry and don’t want to talk about it, we can still provide them with non-verbal outlets to express feelings. Sometimes, they can release what they can’t put into words through artwork. Keep paper, crayons, markers or paint on hand for them to use when they’re upset. Pay attention to the colours, shapes and figures they draw, as this can provide insight into their inner world. 

Some kids may need a bit more guidance; our Anger Toolkit helps parents ask their children insightful questions so children have some direction on how to express their anger through drawing.  

You can also encourage your child to tear up the picture as a way to physically release their anger.

Journal or write a letter

Journaling is another great option, especially for older kids. Having a special notebook just for expressing emotions allows them to write or draw when they are feeling overwhelmed. When your child doesn’t want to talk about what’s upsetting them, you can redirect them to their journal. 

If you suspect a child is angry towards another person, you can gently prompt them to write a letter to this person. They can choose to keep the letter private, send the letter or rip it up. 

Get them moving

Movement is an excellent emotional release for children. This can look like: 

  • Dancing to loud music.
  • Running through an obstacle course outside. 
  • Setting out pillows on the floor and playing “The Floor Is Lava.”
  • Beating a drum or a makeshift drum set with pots and pans. 
  • Setting out items they can stomp on (e.g. cardboard boxes). 

Offering opportunities for play, movement, and creative expression allows children to channel their anger in a healthy way, especially when they don’t have the words to express their feelings.

Conclusion: Create a Safe Space 

It’s not always easy, or possible, for angry kids to talk about why they’re upset. But what’s really important is creating a safe space for them to feel okay, whether they want to talk or not. We’ve explored different ways parents and caregivers can do this, like being understanding and offering ways for kids to let out their emotions, whether it’s through drawing, writing or moving around.

Even if your child never tells you what’s wrong, they need to know that it’s safe to come to you and they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through. 

If you have a child who struggles with anger, outbursts, or yelling at you and refuses to talk about it, our Anger Toolkit is the perfect solution to help you and your child! 

The Anger Toolkit printable includes:

  • Engaging activities to help you and your child understand their anger, such as the fillable “It’s Okay to Get Mad” storybook.
  • Fun worksheets, games, and colouring pages to teach your child how to cope with and express their anger.
  • Posters full of soothing mantras and calming tools to hang as reminders around your home or classroom.
  • Plus, so much more!

Explore The Anger Toolkit here!

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    Article By

    Shannon Wassenaar
    Shannon is a Registered Psychotherapist, Content Specialist, and Highly Sensitive Parent with a passion for understanding, and promoting human relationships. Shannon holds a Bachelors degree in Psychology, and a Masters degree in Psychotherapy. She began her professional career as a trauma therapist, and continues to support families from a trauma-informed perspective. Shannon uses her knowledge and experience to create educational content for parents, and treatment plans to help families flourish. In her spare time she enjoys taking long walks, playing recreational sports, and sipping a hot latte at a local cafe.