Angry Child Syndrome: Psychology & Symptoms

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Although anger is a common emotion in children, sometimes the anger is so intense that it interferes with normal functioning. This lesson will focus on angry child syndrome, and discuss some of the associated psychological conditions.

Emma's Anger Issues

From the time he was about two years old, Emma's mom noticed something was different about her. She seemed to anger easily, lash out at others, and show a lack of empathy. As Emma grew older, she almost seemed to bother and pick on people on purpose. Her anger grew out of control and got her in a lot of trouble during middle school. Now in high school, Emma refuses to ever admit she is wrong. She often blames teachers for being sent out of class, or reported to the principal for discipline. She is very spiteful, and never apologizes. Emma's mom is concerned about what the future may hold for her daughter if she doesn't get a grip on her anger issues.

The Angry Child

Angry Child
angry child

Angry child syndrome refers to children, like Emma, who become excessively and easily angered to extremes. Uncontrolled anger can lead to significant consequences if it is not properly diagnosed and managed. There are no specific identified causes behind angry child syndrome, however; ruling out any pre-existing medical conditions, three common underlying related mental disorders include oppositional defiant disorder or ODD, bipolar disorder, and child antisocial disorder. Let's take a look at each of these disorders and the symptoms associated with them.


The onset of oppositional defiant disorder typically occurs in early childhood and before the teenage years. The following are symptoms that are usually observed in children who have ODD:

  • angry and temperamental - easily losing one's composure even over little things
  • refusing to play by the rules - children with ODD will often neglect or break rules that parents and caregivers put into place
  • difficulty with maintaining and developing relationships - this includes at home, at school, and in social settings
  • purposefully getting others upset - inciting arguments when there is no reason to argue
  • irritable and upset
  • refusing to take responsibility for actions - always blaming others for things
  • self-absorbed - lack of empathy for others
  • spiteful - a desire to hurt someone else either physically or mentally

ODD ranges from mild to severe and caregivers suspecting ODD should seek professional help for diagnosis and treatment.

Bipolar Disorder

Children with bipolar disorder are tough to diagnose because many of the symptoms of this illness mimic those of attention deficit disorder, a disorder that makes it difficult to concentrate and focus. The following are symptoms that are common in children with bipolar disorder:

  • extreme moods and mood alterations - children tend to go from being extremely happy and excited to very angry and hostile or sad and depressed.
  • excessive talking to isolation
  • insomnia to sleeping excessively
  • talking incessantly to withdrawing
  • engaging in risky behavior - drinking alcohol or taking drugs, or engaging in dangerous activities

Like ODD, bipolar disorder can be treated successfully once diagnosed.

Child Antisocial Disorder

Children who are antisocial, typically exhibit the following symptoms:

  • participation in illegal activities
  • hurting others either verbally or physically
  • impulsiveness
  • lying
  • aggressive and angry
  • lack of empathy
  • engaging in reckless behavior

As with other mental disorders, the sooner child antisocial disorder is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated.

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