What Triggers Anger?

People don’t get angry without a reason; there is often more to anger than meets the eye. We must go below the surface of what’s happening to unveil the true culprit behind anger.

Girl with arms crossed looking mad

What causes anger? I wish I had an answer to that loaded question, but in truth, many factors, known as triggers, contribute to getting angry. Triggers are situations or circumstances that ignite a spark within us. Knowing what causes these sparks is an essential step in anger management. In this chapter, we will explore common reasons students get angry and what triggers their anger.

Common Reasons for Anger

Students don’t get angry without a reason; there is more to anger than meets the eye. If we want to help our students, we must go below the surface of what’s happening to unveil the true culprit behind their anger. The following are some common reasons students report getting angry.

  1. They feel misunderstood.
  2. They feel unheard.
  3. They feel embarrassed.
  4. They feel the situation is unfair.
  5. They feel singled out.
  6. They feel hurt.
  7. They feel anxious or stressed.
  8. They are hungry or tired.
  9. They are unable to communicate or express their thoughts and feelings.

Identifying Triggers

Have you ever felt like you’re walking through a minefield with some of your students, avoiding saying or doing anything that may set them off? In these situations, it’s essential to identify what’s causing the problem. But, again, it’s important to note that it’s not the trigger causing the problem but rather how the student reacts to the problematic trigger.

Behavior is a form of communication. When working with an angry student, remember that all behavior serves a purpose, and perception is reality. Next, try to step back and ask what they are trying to communicate through their anger that they can’t express in other ways.

Situational Triggers

Just like there are common causes of anger, there are also common triggers. The following are some triggering events.


  1. being told “no” or that they can’t do something
  2. being told upsetting news
  3. being left out of situations or events, especially ones that involve peers
  4. being ignored and feeling unimportant
  5. being picked on, insulted, called names, and singled out
  6. being lied to
  7. being accused of something they didn’t do
  8. being interrupted
  9. being behind and lost or losing an event

Environmental Triggers

Life events can also trigger anger. Some everyday events may include the following:

  1. Traumatic events, like a car accident
  2. Parental conflict or divorce
  3. Death of a loved one
  4. Adoption issues—you may see this come out in adolescence as they begin to explore their identity, and abandonment issues arise
  5. Exposure to natural events, like a hurricane
  6. Change of residence
  7. Loss of caregiver’s job
  8. Abuse, in any form
  9. Physical illness
  10. Switching schools

Think About This

Sadly, like millions of other children in the US, Jordan lives in poverty. She goes home hungry to a bare refrigerator. She often feels as though the world is working against her. She thinks no one understands and all the other kids at school don’t have it as bad as she does. These thoughts make her angry. She rarely sees her mom because she works two jobs to make ends meet. Jordan also must take care of her two younger siblings, and on top of housework and prepping dinner, she does her best to complete her homework. Jordan frequently falls asleep in class, and when called out, she becomes very argumentative. She doesn’t have many friends because she doesn’t have time to socialize. She also doesn’t have any electronic devices, so she feels like an outcast.

As an educator, you probably know kids like Jordan. Think of all the events and situations that may be triggering Jordan’s anger. Is it any surprise that she comes to school with a chip on her shoulder? All too often, it’s Jordan’s anger and argumentative personality that gets front-and-center attention. However, if we’d take the time to hear her perception of what’s occurring, we may very well understand her behavior.


One of the first steps in controlling our anger is learning to recognize it. We are offering a FREE Say Hello to Your Anger Worksheet from the Hello, Anger Resource Bundle that will help kids notice the sensations they feel in their bodies when they get angry.

Written by Dr. Raychelle Cassada Lohmann.

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