How to Support Those who Struggle to Manage Anger

Published On: 23 June 2022

Reading time: 3 minutes

Some children, young people and adults are placid, calm, and nothing seems to annoy or upset them. Others have a “hot temper” and often feel angry. Their response can seem out of proportion. They might become furious over minor problems and concerns. 

When younger children feel angry, they often have a physical outburst to express their emotions because they don’t yet have the language skills to communicate how they feel. This is also true for many vulnerable young people and adults who may find it difficult to express themselves to us. 

Anger and frustration is likely to present in different ways:

  • Slamming doors
  • Stamping feet
  • Screaming and shouting
  • Ripping or breaking things
  • Hitting and kicking at objects or people
  • Speaking or acting aggressively
  • Vandalism

Anger is not a bad emotion. We all naturally feel angry at times. It is important that the child, young person, or adult knows that the aim is not to simply suppress powerful emotions. Working in settings where individuals sometimes struggle to manage their anger, you have the opportunity to identify and develop safe and effective coping strategies. 

Why do some individuals struggle to manage anger?

It is common for children, young people, and adults to feel angry for a wide range of reasons and, in most cases, it is short-lived and causes minimal upset. Others, however, may experience prolonged anger and frustration.

There are lots of reasons why some individuals may seem to struggle with feelings of anger:

  • Anxiety: The “fight or flight” response means they can respond angrily when worried or feeling trapped.
  • Low self-esteem: Some feel they’re worthless or stupid because of an unmet learning need, specific learning difficulty, or neglect.
  • Trauma: Traumatic experiences can have a significant impact on emotions.
  • ADHD: Those who struggle with impulsivity can quickly and frequently feel angry.
  • Communication difficulties: Individuals who struggle to communicate their feelings may act physically when angry or frustrated. 
  • Autism: Autistic individuals may find it harder to understand and communicate their feelings. They are often affected when their senses feel overwhelmed. Sudden changes to their usual routines can also affect them.

Supporting those who feel angry

Children, young people, and adults with strong tempers can benefit from lots of physical activity wherever possible. Encourage them to take part in sports, children can run off steam in the playground, go on walks, and spend time outside. 

Talk to the individual about their feelings and behaviour when they’re feeling calm, rather than when they’re already angry. Name the emotion and focus on how it made you feel when they behaved that way. You could say, “When you screamed at me, it made me feel frightened. What would have been a better thing to do?”

Help them decide more appropriate things to do when they feel angry and practise them until they become a habit. Remind them that everyone feels this way at times, and you still care for them when they lose their temper.

They could:

  • Kick or throw a ball outside
  • Experiment with sensory play such as water or sand
  • Go for a walk or run
  • Scream into a pillow
  • Use breathing exercises 
  • Try relaxation techniques
  • Get outside into nature
  • Have a drink or snack

When the child, young person or adult is angry, respond in a consistent and calm way. Think about your body language and use CALM stance to appear less confrontational. They won’t be able to talk to you about it, so try to give them some space and guide them away from any difficult situation to calm down. 

Reflect and record

It’s important to reflect upon incidents of anger and frustration.  You might spot triggers to their behaviour, such as when they feel hungry, tired, or overstimulated by their environment. Talk to your colleagues and share knowledge so you all feel better informed about the individual you’re supporting and can meet their individual needs. Record the strategies that work and keep updating them over time so your records feel relevant and useful.