Learn about anger and ways to help children and youth manage it.
It is normal for everyone to be angry at times. But if a person feels angry most of the time, or their temper tends to flare up fast and often, then anger could be a problem. As we mature, it’s important to learn how to control our anger, rather than let anger control us.
Like every emotion, anger is complex. The experience of anger can range from mild annoyance to rage and will vary for each person and in each situation. Stresses at home, school or work can also make people quicker to anger.
The fact that the teen years involve major hormonal changes further complicates the experience of moods and emotions:
- Anger might sometimes appear out of the blue and surprise everyone by its sudden onset and intensity.
- Angry feelings might be present a lot of the time for no clear reason.
- Anger can mask, or substitute for, other difficult feelings such as fear, hurt, guilt, jealousy, frustration or shame.
It’s important for young people to learn how to identify and express anger and other difficult feelings in ways that are healthy and constructive for everyone concerned.
Both fear and anger are powerful motivators that can trigger the body’s “fight or flight” response. Heart rate and breathing may speed up, the face may flush, the jaw and fists might clench, and the voice may get louder. This is the body preparing to act.
The big question is: What kind of action will follow? It’s important to remember that anger, though powerful, is just a feeling. It’s what we do with it that counts.
There are healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with anger. Ignoring angry feelings won’t help anything and can lead to feelings of bitterness, resentment, or even hatred. In the end, pent up or hidden anger can be harmful to the self and others.
On the other hand, acting out in anger doesn’t solve problems. If anything, it creates them. At the least, it can be embarrassing, and at the worst, it can create a dangerous situation. In the extreme, uncontrolled anger can lead to violence and seriously damage young lives.
Following are some ideas for young people to consider in managing their anger:
- When angry feelings arise, it’s time to stop and think about it. Where did the anger come from? Figuring out the reasons for the anger is the first step in resolving the situation.
- Consider talking to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Talking itself can help to calm intense feelings, and can help others understand your position. Also, hearing yourself talk out loud can help you figure things out more easily than when thoughts and feelings are held inside.
- If it turns out that the anger is actually about hiding other feelings like fear or anxiety, you can get help and feel much better. But the first step is allowing yourself to honestly identify your feelings and let someone else know.
In order to control and redirect our anger into positive solutions, we need to be in tune with our thoughts and feelings – basically, with what’s happening on the inside. Self-awareness goes hand in hand with self-control.
Dealing with anger isn’t easy. Controlling anger takes practice. It’s a life skill that everybody needs to learn and it’s an ongoing process, because there’ll always be something to get angry about!
Reducing stress and limiting anger
It may not be possible to get rid of angry feelings altogether but it’s important to learn to control anger and not let anger control you. Activities that can reduce stress can also help to prevent angry feelings taking hold, and can help in managing anger when needed. For a young person dealing with anger issues, here are some tips:
- Get active. Go for a walk, or a run. Exercise has positive effects on body and mind.
- Get enough sleep. Eat right. Being rested and at ease in your body can help keep you calm.
- Get expressive. Write out your feelings, or draw, dance, or sing them! Don’t bottle up your feelings. Pull them out and have a look.
- Get calm. Try meditating, or deep breathing. Regular practice is the key.
- Lose yourself. In music, a book, a movie. Enjoy a distraction outside of yourself.
- Talk to someone you trust. Sharing feelings helps you to figure out what’s happening.
No matter what it is that makes us angry, the most important thing is how we handle it. Anger is a feeling. It’s what we do with it that counts.
When to seek help
Feeling angry now and then is normal. But it may be a problem that needs some help if much of the time a young person:
- has feelings of anger that just won’t quit, whether about things past or present
- feels angry with themselves
- is easily irritated or in a bad mood
- is getting into a lot of arguments or fights
- feels so angry they may feel like hurting themselves or others.
Anger can also be a sign of something else, such as depression or anxiety, or of being bullied. It’s important to take these signs seriously. Talks with friends, parents, the family doctor or other trusted adults can help.
Some roots of anger are very complex and deeply embedded; they can take time and professional advice to figure out and resolve.
Treatment and support
Anger management programs provide education and/or a therapeutic opportunity to deal with anger in a positive, functional way. Programs may be court-ordered or voluntary. Participants may include people who internalize their anger as well as those who act it out verbally or in behaviour towards others.
Anger management programs help participants to identify their anger style, their triggers and the scenarios that prompt anger. They then examine different strategies for dealing with anger. Programs may also deal with conflict resolution, by examining different responses to conflict and conflict resolution styles.
Find services close to home by searching the Ontario Health Care Options directory.
Children and youth can contact:
Kids Help Phone
Free, anonymous and confidential professional phone counselling and online counselling, available 24/7 for kids and youth 20 years of age and younger.
Alberta Health Services
- Helping Your Teen Work through Anger (PDF)
Advice for parents and an anger management activity page.
- Dealing with Anger
- Access to the full Parent Information Series
Canadian Mental Health Association