Disabled and neurodivergent tamariki may get angry because they’re frustrated at not being able to make their needs and wants clear, or make their own choices. It’s important to stay calm, listen, and let them express their feelings in a safe space.

Getting angry is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences. But disabled tamariki have ongoing challenges and choices that can make everyday life particularly frustrating. It’s important for whānau to remember that it's okay for their tamariki to get angry, and there are healthy ways to express and manage it.

The term "meltdown" is commonly used to describe an angry outburst, but meltdowns are different. They happen when tamariki are overwhelmed and result in them having little or no control over their behaviour.

There are many reasons why tamariki get angry

Things are out of their control

For many disabled tamariki, life choices may feel out of their control. They may want to do something and be prevented from doing it, or they may be determined to try something without help from others. It can be very frustrating for them when their wishes aren't met.

They need to escape

Being frustrated, bored, or in discomfort may be expressed as anger. It may help to talk it through. Whānau can also watch for signs of other emotions behind the anger.

Too many things going on

Loud noises or bright lights can make it hard for tamariki to focus. This is especially true for neurodivergent tamariki.

The word “neurodivergent” refers to people whose brains work differently than what is considered “typical”. It includes autistic people.

Wanting attention

Life can be challenging for tamariki with a physical, cognitive, or learning disability. If they’re feeling ignored or bored they may use anger to get attention, even if it’s unintentional.


Communicating can be difficult for many disabled tamariki. They may express anger at being unable to make their needs and wants clear.

Managing angry outbursts

  • The priority is to make sure tamariki are in an environment that is safe and secure.
  • It’s important to stay calm. Deep breathing and counting to ten and back can help.
  • Create a quiet, calm space by turning music off and lights down and moving away from other people.
  • Listen to what tamariki are saying when they’re angry. Watch their eyes and gestures for the things they aren’t saying.
  • Calming strategies that work will be unique to each child. These may be listening to music, playing a game, or providing toys.
  • Letting tamariki know what is going to happen before it starts gives them time to prepare and lessens the chance of an angry response. Giving them choices whenever they can, even if they are small, helps empower tamariki and gives them some control over their own lives and bodies.
  • Whānau may find it helpful to talk through anything that may be bothering their tamariki. It doesn’t have to be anything formal or serious. A lot can be picked up when walking and talking, chatting while driving, or cuddling up with a book.
  • Whānau time doing something fun together can release tension and built-up feelings of anger and frustration.
  • It can help to keep a diary of triggers that lead to angry outbursts. Talk with tamariki about what makes them angry or what might be bothering them. This is important to building strong relationships and helping tamariki learn to be independent.

Conversation ideas

What situations trigger your child to feel angry? What else might they be feeling?
What are some ways you could talk with them about how they’re feeling?
What are some small ways you can give them choices?
How does your whānau have fun together?
What are some things you do to keep yourself calm?

Awhi Ngā Mātua

Content adapted from our partner Awhi Ngā Mātua, an online community for parents and whānau of disabled and medically fragile tamariki.

Visit Awhi Ngā Mātua(external link)

Helpful resources for whānau