Anger is a normal and healthy reaction when things don’t go the way we expected, life feels unfair or people upset or hurt us. It can be a helpful thing - letting us know that something is wrong or not okay with us.
It’s normal for children and young people to find it difficult to manage their angry feelings sometimes, and it’s helpful to remember that the part of our brain that helps us do this doesn’t fully develop until we’re in our mid-20s.
Anger can become a problem for your child if it feels overwhelming or unmanageable, makes them unhappy, affects their relationships or is expressed through unhelpful or destructive behaviours – towards either themselves or other people.
Angry feelings and aggressive behaviour can be really hard to deal with as a parent, and can have a huge effect on family life. If you’re going through this, remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are things you can do to make the situation better, and places where you can find support if you need to. Here, we’ve got strategies you can use to help you respond and advice on when to seek further help and where to get it.
When I’m angry I feel a lot of self-hate and worthlessness. I also feel a build-up of energy.
What is anger like for young people?
If your child can't tell you in words, they will often use their behaviour to let you know how they’re feeling. A young person who is feeling angry may:
- be outwardly aggressive – acting aggressively towards other people, including shouting, hitting or breaking things
- be inwardly aggressive – hurting themselves, for example by self-harming, or being very self-critical
- be passively aggressive – withdrawing, ignoring people, being sarcastic or sulking
- feel things in their body like a racing heart, feeling hot or tensing their muscles – for example clenching their fists
- seem tense, unable to relax or easily irritated
- find it difficult to concentrate.
Underneath these behaviours, a young person who seems very angry may also be feeling things like fear, stress, sadness, hurt or worry – or might be struggling to cope with a difficult experience at school, at home or in another part of their life that they feel unable to talk about.
It can be helpful to remember that a person who’s feeling angry a lot of the time probably isn’t feeling very happy – and while it might not be obvious, what they often need is support. Supporting children and young people to put their feelings into words can help them to feel less overwhelming, making it less likely that they will need to act out.
For some young people, feeling more irritable or angrier than usual can be a sign that they are struggling with low mood, depression or anxiety – especially if it goes on for a long period of time without changing.
How can I respond to my child when they get angry?
Try to separate your child’s feelings from their behaviour, remembering that all feelings are okay, even though some behaviour is not.
Make it clear that you’re not dismissing their anger by letting them know that it’s okay to feel however they feel, and that it’s normal to feel angry sometimes.
Try not to get angry yourself, as this will only escalate the situation.
Focus on staying as calm as you can – using a calm voice and open body language, for example by not folding your arms.
Avoid asking them lots of questions when they’re feeling very angry or distressed.
Acknowledge that they’re feeling angry, and let them know that you’d like to talk with them about what’s going on when they feel ready.
If it feels appropriate, offer them some time and space to calm down.
Especially with older teenagers, sometimes just having half an hour to listen to some music, go for a walk or do an activity they enjoy can help them feel calmer – making it more possible to have a conversation about what’s making them feel this way.
If you need to, explain why their behaviour is not okay so they understand – and hold consistent boundaries around consequences.
For example, you might say that while it’s normal to feel angry, it’s not okay when they shout at you. Remember that while your child might resist boundaries and consequences, they can actually help them to feel safe, contained and cared for.
How can I help my child manage their anger?
In a calm moment, try to explore what’s making them angry, focusing on letting them talk and listening to what it’s like for them. Trust your instincts about picking the right moment, and remember that you know your child better than most people.
You can find more tips on our guide to starting a conversation with your child.
It might help to text, write a letter, go for a walk together or do an activity while you’re talking to help them relax. You could also try spending five or ten minutes checking in with them each evening to encourage them to open up.
Recognising the triggers and patterns that alert them to the fact that they’re getting angry can help them to take action before it becomes overwhelming. Keeping a diary or journal may make it easier for both of you to think this through – and apps such as ThinkNinja (for 10-18-year-olds) and HeadSpace can help them to track their feelings. This video by Braive might also help you to understand how stress and overwhelming feelings can build up in a person's life.
Some young people will find relaxing techniques useful. This could be things like:
- listening to music
- colouring or drawing
- taking deep breaths or doing a breathing technique
Teenagers might like to do this using a mindfulness or meditation app such as Headspace or Calm. Often, people who are feeling angry breathe in more than they breathe out – so a good trick is to focus on breathing out for a few counts longer than they breath in, which can help their body to relax.
Some young people will find active techniques useful. This could be things like:
- punching a pillow
- throwing a ball
- ripping or screwing up newspaper
- playing sport
- running or going for a walk
When things are calm, think together about what happens when they’re angry, how they’d like you to respond, how they might be able to express their anger and what the consequences will be for any behaviour that crosses a boundary. Your child may have ideas of their own, and the more involved they are in discussing this, the more likely they are to engage later on.
While boundaries do need to adapt as your child gets older, it’s still important to keep a stable foundation in place, particularly if things are feeling unsettled. Hold appropriate boundaries and be consistent with consequences – remembering that when young people are angry they can also feel frightened about how out of control things seem. While they might not like it, they do need stability and consistency from you, and consequences will help them to understand what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour.
Your child learns more from you than you may realise. None of us are perfect and that’s okay, but if you lose your temper you can show your child how to respond afterwards. For example, when you’re feeling calmer, apologise, explain what was going on and then let it go. You might say, "I’m sorry I got angry earlier, I was getting upset about the situation. I want to be able to help. Is there anything I can do to make things better for you?"
If they’re struggling, there are places where they can find help and support – and you can find out more about this below.
Young people tell us it helps to:
- think of the bigger picture: will this bother me in a year?
- try and say why you're angry, and remember that time alone to calm yourself down is okay.
- take some time to think about how your actions are affecting others, and try to remember people are usually trying to help you.
- apologise if you have harmed someone – and if you have hurt yourself, apologise to yourself.
- figure out why you reacted like that so you can recognise it next time before it's too late.
- tell someone if they’ve made you angry, or talk to someone else about it.
- remind yourself that the emotion is valid.
Where can I find professional help?
It’s a good idea to seek professional advice if:
- your child’s anger is consistently affecting their day-to-day life, wellbeing, mental health, relationships or experience at home or school – or the day-to-day life of your family.
- you’ve tried strategies for at least four weeks and nothing seems to work, or their outbursts of anger feel unmanageable and last for a long time.
- they are expressing their anger through destructive behaviours towards themselves or others – including self-harm or physically hurting other people.
There are different places where you can find help for your child. Your GP, your child's school and considering whether counselling or therapy might help are good places to start.
Your GP can discuss your concerns with you and, if needed, refer your child for more support - including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Sometimes, challenging or aggressive behaviour can be a sign of an additional need or developmental difficulty, such as autism or difficulties hearing or speaking, which your child may need specialist help with. If you think this could be the case, speak to your GP or your child’s school to discuss whether they need a referral for an assessment.
You can find out more about speaking to GPs, finding a counsellor or therapist, accessing CAMHS, getting help from your child’s school and finding local services on our guide to getting help for your child.
If your child becomes so angry that they are being verbally or physically aggressive and you feel unsafe, it’s important that you reach out for help.
In these situations:
- If it is safe for you and your child, remove yourself and any other family members from the situation.
- If it’s not safe to do so, and you feel that you or anyone else are at immediate risk of harm, warn your child that if the aggression does not stop you will contact the police.
- Follow through if they do not stop. Call 999 if there is a danger to life or violence is being used or threatened. Call 101 if you want to discuss the situation with your local police officer.
Calling the police to intervene in a situation that involves your child is an incredibly difficult thing for any parent to have to do. However, this may be the only course of action if your safety, or the safety of other family members, is in question. You might feel worried about getting your child into trouble, but they won’t automatically get a criminal record and it's important to put your safety first. The police can be supportive about responding to mental health issues and may be able to advise you about next steps.
Looking after yourself
As a parent or carer, we often put our children first, no matter how old they are – but it’s so important that you remember to look after yourself too. If you have ever flown on a plane you may remember the flight attendant saying that in times of difficulty you need to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others – and the same applies here.
If your child is acting out, remember that it can be because they see you as a safe person who they can express their feelings with, trusting that you will love them no matter what – and that it isn’t necessarily about you.
Use the family and friends around you – whether it’s for a catch-up or having someone to watch the kids so you can have a break.
These are some things that can help you take care of yourself:
Pick your battles.
Try to take a step back and see the bigger picture. Choosing to let the little things go will be better for your own wellbeing and it doesn’t mean you’re letting them ‘win’.
Take time out.
It can be a natural response to feel angry when someone is acting out. If you feel your own anger levels rising, tell your child you’re taking a time out. You may want to do something to reset like putting the kettle on, doing the washing up or taking the rubbish out.
Plan fun activities.
Spending time with your child doing something you both enjoy can help you to feel more positive about the relationship and yourself as a parent. It could be a movie night, a pamper party, playing a game or visiting a local park.
Where to get further support
Useful helplines and websites
If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.
- Opening times:
Supports students to look after their mental health by providing information and advice.
They also provide details about local services offered by universities and information on how you can access support group programmes.
You can call or email for more information (this is not a helpline).