Anger, Aggression or Defiance

It is not uncommon for younger children to disobey their parents or throw an occasional temper tantrum. Similarly, many teenagers show rebellious behaviors at some point. However, if your child or adolescent is getting into trouble at school or with the law or is displaying aggressive behavior that might harm others, an evaluation may be needed.

Checklist of Symptoms

Below is a list of symptoms that children who have problems with anger and defiance might show.

  • Often loses his temper
  • Is easily annoyed by others
  • Often gets into arguments with adults and those in authority
  • Refuses to follow rules
  • Blames others for his misbehavior
  • Often seems angry or resentful
  • Destroys property
  • Has physically harmed animals or people

Possible Diagnoses or Explanations of Behavior

Children with language or learning problems or who are having difficulty keeping up in school may experience greater frustration than normally developing children. This frustration may result in expressions of anger or aggression. If it is suspected that a child is not functioning at an age appropriate level, a psychological evaluation should be sought to determine if there is a developmental problem.

Family tension or other stressful events may also affect a child's behavior. When a child’s family is having difficulties, he may feel upset, angry, or hostile. Additionally, children who have experienced significant changes in their lives, such as the loss of a loved one or a move to a new area, may act out due to the stress that these experiences cause.

Below are a few common childhood disorders that may result in displays of anger or defiance in children and teens. Click on the disorder name to learn more about it from the A-Z Disorder Guide provided by the NYU Child Study Center.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a behavioral disorder in which children argue excessively with others, refuse to comply with rules or requests, and frequently blame others for their misbehavior. It is important for children with these problems to receive professional help in order to prevent their misbehavior from escalating to a level where they could hurt others or get into trouble with the law.

Conduct Disorder

This is a more serious behavioral disorder that is diagnosed when children are harming animals or people, destroying property, stealing, lying, or breaking important rules (such as breaking curfew or being truant from school). Children displaying these behaviors need intensive help to address the issues contributing their conduct problems.


Children and adolescents suffering from depression are often irritable, which could lead to arguments with others. Children displaying notable defiance and anger should be screened for depression.

´╗┐Learn about Evaluation and Treatment of mental health problems among children.


Information provided on this website about common emotional and behavioral problems experienced by children is drawn from sources including:

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Boston Bar Association. (2009). The Parents' How-to Guide to Children's Mental Health Services in Massachusetts (2nd edition). Boston: Author.  URL: Accessed: 2010-12-09. (Archived by WebCite® at

Klimkeit, E. I., Mattingley, J. B., Sheppard, D. M., Farrow, M., Bradshaw, J. L. (2004). Examining the Development of Attention and Executive Functions in Children with a Novel Paradigm. Child Neuropsychology, 10 (3), 201-211.

NYU Child Study Center. A-Z Disorder Guide. URL: Accessed: 2010-12-09. (Archived by WebCite® at


Date Reviewed: May 31, 2011