Contagious anger and how it affects kids




A few weeks ago my thirteen-year-old grandson, my husband, and I were walking on the beach one evening. We were so busy talking and looking for seashells that I didn’t see a storm moving in. By the time we noticed the huge black cloud in the picture above moving over us, we were a mile and a half from our car. As the lightning started to strike, the wind turned to squalls, and the rain started pelting us with what felt like hail, we starting running toward the car. We were totally unprepared to deal with this scary storm. It was a frightening experience, to say the least.

Just like the huge, ominous storm cloud that moved over us suddenly, anger can quickly envelop a child of divorce. It can be very frightening for the child. Just like we were unprepared for the storm, these little children are unprepared for the storm of anger.

Where does this overwhelming anger come from? I believe it is contagious anger, and it spills over from the adults in the child’s life. The child is helpless as the contagious anger hovers over his life.

One kid’s story

When Jesse was four years old, he was angry. He was asked to leave several early childhood programs due to his almost uncontrollable anger. When he was five years old and in kindergarten, his anger got him sent him home from school on a constant basis. When he was six, seven, eight, nine, and beyond, his anger interrupted his learning and his schooling. Some months he spent more time out of school than he did in class.

Jesse lived in a highly dysfunctional family. Dad moved in and out of the home constantly. Dad was an angry man. Because Mom had been emotionally and physically abused, she was a woman who couldn’t tell her ex-husband no. For years Jesse lived under this cloud of anger and rage. He had caught the contagious anger and was helpless to let go of it.

Something to remember

Author Kathy Leonard, in the article Helping People Who’ve Made Their Suffering Worse, says when ministering to adults who are suffering, “we must always remember the constant nature of the person’s pain. He wakes up to it, he carries it with him throughout the day, he falls asleep with it. It hovers like a spectre in his mind.”

It is the same for angry children who are experiencing the divorce of their parents or living in a dysfunctional family. Just like pastors ministering to the suffering adult, we must remember the hurting child is carrying the anger with him all day long, every day. He wakes angry; he goes to school angry; and he falls asleep angry. The anger is consuming and very tiring. The contagious anger the child experiences continually sends destructive messages to the child.

In his book Talk Now and Later, KidMin expert Brian Dollar tells the story about a kid who lived with an alcoholic dad and an angry mom. “I lived to avoid her anger, so I did everything I could to please her. To her, nothing I ever did was good enough. I’m sure she was primarily angry at my father, but when I was a boy, I sure felt like I was the main target!”

Brian goes on to state, “Poisonous messages are powerful and destructive. The people speaking them may or may not know they are ruining a person’s life. Either way, they crush a person’s soul.” I believe contagious anger is one of those poisonous and destructive messages.

How contagious anger affects the kids

Anger penetrates many areas of a child’s life. Some kids become sullen and withdrawn. Others have behavior problems. Because some children feel like they can’t trust the adults in their life, they will work tirelessly to push caring adults out of the picture.

Anger also affects a child’s:

  •      Schoolwork
  •      Friendships
  •      Relationships with extended family such as grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles
  •      Life at home with the single parent and siblings
  •      Soul, because it can affect the child’s relationship with Jesus Christ

The vicious circle of anger intensifies unless someone steps in and helps the child recognize the overwhelming anger.

Teaching volunteers to accommodate the angry child

In our DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids) groups we see a lot of anger displayed. Most of the time when an angry child comes into a group, with some help and understanding we can help the child get control of his anger.

Calming an angry child

We teach our volunteers how to calm an angry child. In the article 8 Fun and Easy Tips to Help Children Release Stress and Get Rid of Anger you will find some fun and practical tips that anyone can use with children.

Teaching forgiveness

Kids become angry because they are hurt by something that happened. Many stay angry because they choose to stay angry or because they don’t forgive those who have hurt them. Some children simply don’t know how to forgive. They have never been taught how to forgive, and they may not have any adult in the home to model forgiveness.

Take time to teach forgiveness. For younger children, teach them to forgive the little things in life first. Their sister hurt their feelings or someone sat in the chair they were going to sit in are a couple of good examples. Tell them the story of Jesus, and when they are ready, present the plan of salvation to them.

Back to the storm

By the time my grandson, my husband, and I got about halfway to our car, the entire beach was being inundated by the storm. We were the only three souls on the beach. It was lonely and scary out there. We ran until our hearts were pounding in our chests. And we kept running. We were soaked from head to toe. My skin hurt because the blowing sand and rain had bombarded us. I thought we were never going to reach our car. Unlike the child of divorce who can’t easily escape the storm of contagious anger, we eventually were able to flee that frightening storm.


DC4K blogs posts are great to use in training children’s leaders and volunteers and they are free.  Subscribe to the DC4K blog here.

Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community? Click here.

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