Behavioral Interventions for Anger, Irritability, and Aggression in Children and Adolescents

J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2016 Feb;26(1):58-64. doi: 10.1089/cap.2015.0120. Epub 2016 Jan 8.


Objective: Anger, irritability, and aggression are among the most common reasons for child mental health referrals. This review is focused on two forms of behavioral interventions for these behavioral problems: Parent management training (PMT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Methods: First, we provide an overview of anger/irritability and aggression as the treatment targets of behavioral interventions, followed by a discussion of the general principles and techniques of these treatment modalities. Then we discuss our current work concerning the transdiagnostic approach to CBT for anger, irritability, and aggression.

Results: PMT is aimed at improving aversive patterns of family interactions that engender children's disruptive behavior. CBT targets deficits in emotion regulation and social problem-solving that are associated with aggressive behavior. Both forms of treatment have received extensive support in randomized controlled trials. Given that anger/irritability and aggressive behavior are common in children with a variety of psychiatric diagnoses, a transdiagnostic approach to CBT for anger and aggression is described in detail.

Conclusions: PMT and CBT have been well studied in randomized controlled trials in children with disruptive behavior disorders, and studies of transdiagnostic approaches to CBT for anger and aggression are currently underway. More work is needed to develop treatments for other types of aggressive behavior (e.g., relational aggression) that have been relatively neglected in clinical research. The role of callous-unemotional traits in response to behavioral interventions and treatment of irritability in children with anxiety and mood disorders also warrants further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Anger*
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / therapy
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Irritable Mood*
  • Parents / education
  • Parents / psychology