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5 Unexpected Causes of Anger in Children

5 Unexpected Causes of Anger in Children

Your kindergartner shoved another kid at a birthday party—and it wasn’t the first time. Your second-grader threw a temper tantrum in class—again. Your adolescent child is getting into fights at school—on a regular basis.

What’s a parent supposed to do? If you’ve tried all the most trusted parenting strategies and nothing is working to calm the intense rage in your child, it’s time to look for the underlying cause behind the behavior. Uncontrollable anger is usually a sign of abnormal brain activity and can be associated with a range of mental health conditions and other issues.


Children with ADD/ADHD often experience frequent angry outbursts. In part, this is due to the impulsivity that is one of the hallmarks of the condition. Many youngsters with ADD/ADHD have low activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area is involved with impulse control, judgment, and decision-making. When activity is low in this region, kids tend to speak and act without considering the consequences of their actions. So, they are more likely to throw a temper tantrum when it is inappropriate or cause physical harm to a classmate or themselves.

2. Anxiety Disorders

In some kids, tantrums, meltdowns, and aggressive behavior are signs of anxiety. Anxiety is associated with increased activity in a number of areas of the brain, including the basal ganglia (involved in setting the body’s anxiety level) and the amygdala (the brain’s fear center). Being in a heightened state of alert can cause the body’s fight-or-flight stress response to kick into gear. For some kids, this results in going for the “fight” option rather than avoiding conflict.

3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Research shows that about half of all people, including kids, with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), experience intense bouts of rage and anger. People with OCD tend to have excessive activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG), which is the brain’s gear shifter. Too much activity here can make people get stuck on obsessive thoughts and get locked into actions. Children with OCD may have compulsions that help them cope with the distressing thoughts that loop inside their head. When OCD is left untreated and there is interference with those compulsions, it can cause kids to panic and react with anger.

4. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

If your child has ever taken a tumble off a bike or fallen down the stairs and hit their head, it can lead to lasting consequences, such as problems with anger and aggression. Even a mild head injury where they don’t blackout or get a concussion can cause problems. No amount of talk therapy will help a child overcome these issues unless the underlying brain injury is treated.

5. Temporal Lobe Abnormalities

Aggression is often associated with abnormalities in the left temporal lobes. Located on either side of the brain behind the eyes and underneath the temples, the temporal lobes are involved in mood stability, memory, and learning. Brain imaging research shows that emotional stability is heavily influenced by the left temporal lobes. Problems with this area of the brain are associated with anger, dark or violent thoughts, and emotional instability. Temporal lobe problems are commonly due to genetics, head injuries, exposure to toxins (such as toxic mold, drugs, or alcohol), or infections (such as Lyme disease).

At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to diagnose and treat children. This helps our Child & Adolescent Psychiatrists identify any dysfunction or damage in the brain, as well as any co-existing conditions, that need to be addressed. Based on this information, we are better able to personalize treatment for your child using the least toxic, most effective solutions for a better outcome.

To find out more about how we can help your child, call 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit.

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  1. Angelique says:

    Is SPECT imaging made affordable to families with kids on the Autism spectrum.

  2. Lu says:

    Would love to make an appointment for my grandson, however he has trouble at his dentist for a simple cleaning. How are these brain spects done and can he be put to sleep?

  3. Lori Nowlen says:

    Where is the closest clinic to Grand Rapids, Mi located?

  4. Dr Henry Sinopoli says:

    Failure to appropriately correct abhorrent behaviour is a major reason many children act out in anger…That is usually the fault of absentee parents scurring each day to place their child under the responsibility of a daycare worker…Parenting 101…raise your child…don’t look for some psychological babble diagnosis to blame the child for your absence or ignorance…

    • Robert J Maderia Sr., PhD says:

      Amen Clinics’ observational, subclinical, and clinical practice and SPECT intervention & diagnoses adust for “idiopathic” spontaneous conditions for which the cause and/or effect, that may not be immediately known (parent/child attachment styles,changes in biochemical parameters, health-related QoL, etc.). As well as, any “iatrogenic” (relating to illnesses caused by medical examination or treatment) … No need for “iatrophobic” hysteria or abnormal/irrational fear of going for treatment!!!

    • Sonia says:

      Wow! I have 8 children whom I have stayed home and parented. Our youngest two are fostered from 6 weeks of age and have had the same time, love and care from my husband and myself
      as our other children. They have uncontrollable rage, violence foul mouths and constantly live in fight or flight mode. This is not from our parenting!!! It’s Dr’s and other professionals with these judgemental views that never offer the desperate help needed. How dare you try pigeon hole every parent or home as the same. Shame on you! Broaden your learnings outside of the 4 walls of your Dr’s room and educate yourself so you can offer families and these poor little kids rather than jump to conclusions with your know it all views.

    • Dr. Bob says:

      I apologize on behalf of this commentator to the many parents who have to work for a living.

    • Angry parent says:

      I would never bring anyone in my family to you with that kinda of attitude. It is hard enough to get help with children with Autism and anything else they may have like low cognition. Doctors like you is why it takes 2 to 3 years to get a diagnosis and help. My son is deaf and on the spectrum disorder and all I heard for 3 years is he is just frustrated because of communication. I am not stupid I knew there was more. It is not normal for a 3 year old to flip furniture, smear poop on the walls, take a knife to your furniture, knock a tv off the wall. Since the doctors kept saying he was frustrated because of lack of communication, I took him for evaluations to the Indiana School for the deaf, first thing they said to me when they were done after all day testing is my sons number one problem was not being deaf but he was autistic. I felt a sigh of relief, there was an answer and I can come up with a plan. So DR don’t be quick to judge that parents are just bad parents because they can’t control their kids and are lazy at parenting. That is so insulting. I can’t contain myself. You raise my anxiety level through the roof with your ignorance.

  5. Rick says:

    What are the best supplements for children with temporal lobe abnormalities probably linked to heredity?

  6. Carol Larsen says:

    Please keep sending these to me. They are excellent. I plan on having your scans in the new year. I will be retiring this year.

  7. Bobbi Lee says:

    Does your clinic treat. Adults?

  8. Molly Huddleston says:

    I think you missed Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which can be misdiagnosed. I exhibited it as a child, but then I had epilepsy and dyscalcula..sp? I have since learned to control the ODD and epilepsy, but I think that ODD is an important diagnosis, especially in a child.


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