Understanding ADHD Children and Anger

Sad, mixed race boy sitting on sidewalk

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Some kids with ADHD experience frequent anger outbursts which can get them into trouble at school, make it hard to maintain friendships and also put a strain on family life. Their anger might pass quickly, but the damage it causes can be long-lasting.

ADHD and Anger

Here are some of the most common reasons why kids with ADHD may exhibit angry outbursts:

Impulsivity

The impulsive nature of ADHD means that if your child feels angry, he communicates it right away. He doesn't have a few seconds of lead time that a child without ADHD has, and they haven’t yet developed strategies that adults with ADHD develop.

Emotional Sensitivity

Kids and adults with ADHD tend to be emotional, sensitive, and feel things very deeply. They also have a hard time regulating those feelings. This can cause them to cry easily (which can be very embarrassing for them) or feel intensely angry.

Moodiness

Moods change very quickly throughout the day when you have ADHD. There can be many episodes of happiness, sadness, and frustration in one afternoon.

Frustration

Low tolerance to frustration can mean that your child feels frustrated quickly, and this can cause anger outbursts.

Poor Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem and feeling anxious about a situation they can’t control can also lead to your child feeling anger.

Medication Side Effects

Sometimes children experience a difficult period when their stimulant medications are wearing off, resulting in increased meltdowns and tantrums.

Excess Energy

The energy and restlessness that comes along with ADHD may be too much to handle at times until it finally bubbles over into angry words or physical reactions.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Approximately one-third of all children with ADHD also have a condition called oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Children with ODD display defiant, hostile behaviors towards authority figures.

They often lose their temper, frequently argue with adults, actively defy rules, blame others, deliberately annoy others, are touchy, easily annoyed and behave in angry, resentful ways overall.

Obviously, some oppositional behaviors are expected in children, and ODD is only diagnosed if the pattern of behavior is significantly more intense and frequent when compared to other children of the same age. If you think your child might have ODD, book an appointment with your pediatrician. 

Ways to Manage Anger

Here are some suggestions to help your child manage their frustration and anger. 

Daily Exercise

If anger is an issue for your child, be sure to provide appropriate outlets. Strenuous outdoor play and exercise can be very powerful releases for children with ADHD. Running, jumping, skipping, climbing—these basic physical activities will help release some of the tension, restlessness, and extra energy that often accompanies ADHD. Make sure your child is engaging in this type of play daily. 

Martial Arts

Consider enrolling your child in a martial arts class. Martial art is an excellent exercise choice for an ADHD child. It helps develop self-discipline and self-control, which in turn helps with impulsivity. It also improves self-esteem and is an excellent way to release energy. 

Use Words

Encourage your child to ‘use their words’ rather than act aggressively. To begin with, it might be hard for them because it is a new skill. However, with practice and a little help from you, it will become easier. Being able to articulate how they are feeling lessens their need to express themselves through anger. For example, ‘Jimmy took my red car and I feel mad.’

Limit Television and Video Games

Supervise the programs your child watches on television or on the computer. Much of the media on TV, movies, video games, etc. is violent, aggressive and inappropriate.

Children with impulse control problems may be more easily influenced by the aggressive reactions they see. Set rules around these programs, and explain to your child why it is not appropriate to watch these shows (or play these video games).

Set Clear, Consistent Rules

Make sure you have clear house rules around behavior. When your child is settled and able to talk, sit down and come up with the rules together. Discuss expectations and consequences for behaviors, including a reward system. Then once they are in place, stick to them.

Don’t change the rules or make up consequences in the middle of an outburst. Be matter of fact. If this happens, then this is the consequence. Strong boundaries are helpful for you both.

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