Anger is an emotional state that can vary in intensity from generic irritation to intense rage. Those in an angry state may experience changes in heart rate and blood pressure and other physical symptoms.
We often think of anger as negative or to be avoided. Anger, like any emotion, exists to tell us more about our needs, wants and beliefs. For example, if someone posts something hurtful about a friend on social media, we might feel anger because someone we love and care about is being attacked. In short, we experience anger when we perceive threats – either personally or to those we want to protect.
Students experience threats in many forms: bullying, rejection, academic pressure, social media, global pandemic…the list is endless. Anger can be caused by both external and internal events. You could be angry at a specific person, event, circumstance or your anger could be caused by worrying or brooding about a personal concern or problem.
Memories of traumatic or harmful events can trigger anger, so it is important to practice self awareness and to identify warning signs which can signal that it may be time to use a skill or ask for additional support or intervention. Students with prolonged or intense anger may experience negative impacts on their physical, emotional, psychological and social health and well-being.
What does anger look like
Anger in children
It is not uncommon for children to become upset, throw a tantrum or cry when they do not get what they want. Typically tantrums last less than 10 minutes, during which children may express their anger or frustration by:
Children may become increasingly angry when they experience a traumatic event, loss, or have additional environmental or biological factors that impact their wellbeing. It is important to pay attention to any regression in behaviors in young children, as this can be a signal that there may be an underlying stress or concern that requires attention.
Anger in teens
Teens are navigating a lot, and face many unique stresses, so it is no shock that they have been stereotyped in music, media and pop culture as angry and rebellious over the years- but there is some science involved which may help us understand why they are often labeled as angry teenagers.
Many teens experience surges of the hormones estrogen and testosterone, which can result in a fluctuating mood. They may be increasingly irritable, reactive and easily overwhelmed as their impulse and decision making parts of the brain continue to develop.
Prolonged or intense anger can have negative impacts on many dimensions of our wellbeing including emotional, physical, social, and more. If you believe that anger is having a detrimental impact on your child and families wellbeing, it may be time to seek additional support.
How do I respond?
When a child or adolescent is angry it is important to encourage them to regulate their emotions and communicate how they are feeling or what is needed at the time. This can be challenging but there are a few tips which can help
- Reassure them that anger is a normal experience, but it needs to be processed safely
- Set limits/boundaries that work for your home – be clear if there is a no hitting policy, etc.
- Identify the root of the anger – help them pinpoint the main issue that is causing them to feel angry. In some cases anger may be presenting as underlying fear or anxiety about a certain event of life circumstance
- Express the anger in a healthy way – journaling, talking it out, ripping up a scrap of paper, squeezing playdough, etc.
- Take a break if needed to practice relaxation strategies- bring mind and body together to help calm and focus before having the conversation
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- Assist in problem solving if the person is open to support
- Be aware of your own reactions, model healthy skills to deal with your own emotions
Helping children and youth process their anger is important because it allows them to identify the cause and skills to use to calm and rebalance. Try saying things like:
- I can tell that what they said upset you, do you want to talk about it together?
- You seem upset today and I am wondering what I can do to help you. I am here to listen when you are ready.
- That seems very frustrating, can you tell me more about what happened next?
- I understand that you would be upset over that. How can I support you?
Mental Health America Podcast – In the Open – “Episode: I’m really mad at the world”
American Psychological Association – Controlling anger before it controls you
American Psychological Association -Book Suggestion: Zero to 60: A teens guide to manage frustration, anger and everyday irritations
Yale Medicine – Anger, Irritability and Aggression in Kids