Angry Kids: Why Your Child May Be Aggressive and Violent

Written By

Shannon Wassenaar
April 10, 2024

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

Mason is a competitive, athletic and spirited 8-year-old. He’s always been an active kid with a lot of energy and has trouble controlling his impulses. Whether it’s after losing to his younger brother in a board game or being beaten out by an opponent in a hockey game, Mason’s behaviour can be aggressive and unpredictable. 

Mason’s parents have tried every tool they have – taking away his electronics to teach him a lesson, bribing him to behave with his favourite treats and threatening to keep him home from one of his hockey games. But nothing seems to change his behaviour. 

How can caregivers support kids like Mason?

Understanding why their child is aggressive and violent is a great starting point. This blog is intended to help parents understand their child’s aggression and offer practical strategies for helping kids with anger, cope with frustration, communicate their needs more effectively and release their frustration in healthy ways. 

Why Kids Get Aggressive

Any behaviour is a clue into a child’s world – their behaviour is how they communicate their needs. Children need to feel seen, soothed, cared for and safe. When these needs aren’t met, kids will either try to get their caregiver’s attention or attempt to meet their needs on their own. 

For example, when Mason feels unseen, dysregulated and unsafe, one of two things happens:

  • He will push, kick, hit or punch his peers, siblings or opponents to get the attention of his caregivers.
  • He will shout, scream, or yell to release the feelings from his body.

These are the tools Mason has to meet his needs. But, when these tools still can’t get the job done, it can result in even more aggressive behaviours. 

This doesn’t make his aggressive behaviour okay, but it does help caregivers see how aggression can work to solve a problem for kids like Mason.

Your angry child may be showing aggression instead of other behaviours because: 

  • Other behaviours aren’t working to solve their problems.
  • They don’t have the skills to communicate their needs more effectively. 
  • They don’t have the tools needed to cope with their feelings.
  • They’re modelling behaviours they’ve observed (at home, school, in the media, etc.).

Kids with aggressive behaviours need us to get curious! They don’t want to be angry and aggressive – they need our help to get to the root of the problem. Here are four questions to consider to help you understand the reasons for your child’s aggressive behaviours: 

  • How is aggressive behaviour serving my child?
  • What needs are being met through these behaviours?
  • Does my child have the skills to meet their needs more effectively?
  • What skills could be missing?

Related Post: Why Does My Child Refuse Talk When They’re Angry?

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

Child Sleeping

What Aggressive Behaviours Can Tell Us

Aggressive behaviours are clues into an angry child’s world. Aggressive behaviours can be a child’s way of communicating:

“I need you to see me!”

Mason’s aggressive behaviours caught the attention of his parents. He was craving closeness and connection with them; this was the only way he knew how to get noticed. 

“I’m overwhelmed!” 

Mason’s behaviour was often his way of communicating the need for a break from the pressure and demands of hockey. When Mason pushed or tripped his opponents in a hockey game, he had to sit in the penalty box – this was often the only moment during the game where he didn’t feel overwhelmed. 

“I feel out of control!” 

Mason’s schedule and time were determined by his parents, teachers and coaches. He had very little time just to be a kid. In addition to this, Mason has never learned how to control his impulses. When he feels the urge to push his brothers or swear at the ref in a hockey game, he feels powerless to stop the behaviour. 

“I have no other way of coping!” 

Environmental factors like too much noise, crowds or chaos can overstimulate their senses, promoting sensory overload and leading to aggressive behaviour. For Mason, the arena was overstimulating. He loved hockey but couldn’t tolerate the bright lights, noises and fast-paced nature of the game – it was all too much, and he couldn’t cope. 

“I don’t feel safe!” 

When Mason first started playing hockey had a bad fall on the ice and was teased by the other players. Every game, he fears “looking stupid” or “sounding like a baby.” Mason is also fearful of losing and disappointing his dad. He believes he needs to win to get his teammates’ and father’s approval and affection. Behind his aggressive behaviour is the need to feel safe and secure – on the ice and in the relationship with his father. 

Related Post: The Ultimate Guide to Aggressive, Lying, Whining, and Defiant Behaviours in Children

How to Help Your Child With Aggressive Behaviours 

Aggressive kids don’t need more punishment, separation and threats. Instead, they need us to see them and teach them how to be angry. 

When kids are punished for their aggressive behaviours, it doesn’t get to the root of the problem (it often exacerbates it). 

Here’s what angry kids with aggressive behaviours need from us: 

To be seen and heard

Validating the emotion shows your child you understand. It also teaches them to label feelings, which will help build their emotional intelligence. 

“It sounds like you’re upset. I know it’s frustrating when you lose a game. It’s hard for mommy too. Losing is tough.”

Firm and loving boundaries

Holding a firm and realistic boundary is one of the most loving ways to help kids with aggressive behaviours. 

“I love you so much, and I won’t let you hit your siblings. I know you can’t control those impulses right now, so I’m going to help you move to another room to keep everyone safe.”

Practice controlling their impulses

Mason’s parents can use an activity he likes to help him practise controlling his impulses and building skills to tolerate the frustration of losing. 

“When you hear the whistle, you have to stop! When I blow the whistle again, you can keep skating!”

You noticing the good 

Instead of focusing on what isn’t working, notice what is working: 

“I noticed you lost to your brother while playing mini sticks downstairs. He got a goal on your net, and you didn’t let it stop you from having fun!

Daily opportunities to release anger 

When angry kids exhibit aggressive behaviours, it can be a sign that their bodies need a way to release pent-up frustration. Here are some playful ways to help kids release the attacking energy in their bodies: 

  • Sword fights with pool noodles. 
  • Rough and tumble play with a clear start and finish.
  • Build a pillow tower and knock it over. 
  • Write down their frustrations on a piece of paper and rip up the paper.

Related Post: How to Discipline an Angry Child

Conclusion: Help Your Child By Getting Curious

The most important takeaway is to get curious about the root causes behind your child’s emotions and behaviours. When kids act out in anger or aggression, they are communicating an underlying need. 

If your child’s aggressive behaviours persist, impede them from functioning or cause serious harm to themselves, others or property, it can help to reach out for more support. There are trained professionals who can help you get to the root of the problem, offer strategies for releasing frustration, and teach them skills to meet their needs in more effective ways. 

Trust your instincts as a parent. You know your child best! If something feels off, don’t hesitate to consult an expert.

If you’re having trouble understanding your child’s anger, our Anger Toolkit is the perfect solution to help guide your curiosity! 

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.