How to help manage angry feelings in children

We are all familiar with feelings of anger. Usually, anger is caused by unfairness, irritation, frustration and abuse. The little almond shaped bit in the brain called the amygdala is triggered by angry feelings alongside angry behaviour (amongst other emotions) thus the body prepares itself for fight or flight. This is a very useful response when we need to be motivated to take action. Indeed, back in The Stone Age times when we needed to save ourself from the sabre-toothed tiger, the amygdala served a very important role in protecting us from danger.


Today, we don't need to be protected from the sabre-toothed tiger but the amygdala may well give a strong response to thoughts and events that do not need such actions. The amygdala cannot distinguish between physical and emotional threats.

So, what can we do in layman's terms to help the child who is experiencing anger? By the way, anger is a secondary emotion which means it can cover primary emotions such as fear and sadness. Sometimes it is easier to avoid these feelings and allow anger to take their place. Feeling fearful or sad can leave us feeling powerless and vulnerable. Anger on the other hand can make us feel in control and give us a wave of energy.

What can we do to help children showing signs of anger?

When we notice that a child is showing signs of anger, we need to help them express themselves safely and to encourage them to label their emotions. Labelling emotions helps create distance from them.

We need to show that we understand how an event/situation could make them feel angry - and aim to check what the basic emotion is. Often it is better to give the child an opportunity to try calm down in a safe and private place. Having an audience can worsen the situation.

Let the child know that you want to work with them to help them to feel better and that you understand it may take a short while for them to be ready to work on solutions. Make it clear that you can't allow them to hurt others, damage things or hurt themselves.

When they are ready, breathing techniques (I have some really fun ones for children) are extremely useful as is asking them to make a clench fist and then letting it go.

Strategies to help with angry emotions

When the child is calm you can look at strategies to use to help with further angry emotions. I have a bag of feathers from the craft shop, I ask the child to make a card tube that we can load the feathers into. They can decorate it as they like but the idea is that they must blow out all the feathers when they begin to feel angry emotions. You can encourage them to label the feathers with their angry feelings. Obviously, this is not something that is often to hand when not at home - however, with hypnosis the child can visualise blowing out these angry feelings.

It's good to make a chart of things to do when a child begins to feel angry. This is something that the child can help to make. It may consist of choosing to do exercise, bursting balloons, kicking autumn leaves or playing skittles. Physical activities are a good release for feelings of anger.

Heavy work describes any activities that push or pull against the body. This creates resistance. Heavy work which can include throwing, sweeping, shovelling, pushing and pulling, is very calming and helps calm and regulate the sensory system. Some children may prefer to calm down with mindful colouring or art.

I use representations a lot in my therapy. Encourage your child to make a play-doh representation of their anger and let them smash it and squash it. Alternatively, they may want to make a junk model of their unwanted emotion. They can get creative in their method of getting rid of it.

In older children, I use visualisations during hypnosis where they might imagine placing their unwanted feelings and emotions on balloons or bubbles and then they may imagine them either popping or floating away until they have disappeared. Some children enjoy visualising putting their unwanted emotions on a football and kicking it as far away as possible. It's important that the visualisations are meaningful and relevant to the child. This technique may be helpful outside of hypnosis.

Making a scream box is another idea which has been helpful for my young clients. There are instructions on the net and once made, the child can scream into their box and the sound will be muffled. These are simple to make and require easily obtained resources.

Role play may help your child. You could mirror some of your child's unwanted behaviour and ask them to advise on solutions and strategies. Not a good idea to do this when your child is extremely angry, this is best done when your child is calm.

Setting a good example

Set a good example to your child when managing your own anger. Where possible, go somewhere quiet to calm down and help yourself with some deep breathing exercises.

Anger can be a learned behaviour, consider the people around your child. It is important to find out what triggers your child and to work with them to find solutions. For some individuals, anger can be caused by an underlying disorder. If you are concerned, please contact your GP.

Do stay calm and do validate children's emotions. Don't rush in with a hug, rather ask them what they need from you right now. Do they need a quiet place to rest? Do they need a drink? These choices allow your child to have some control. It may be that they do want a hug but allow your child that choice.

Finding help and support

Managing anger can be exhausting and stressful but remind yourself, and your child, that these feelings will pass. If you would like some help in supporting your child, then my therapy may be just what you are looking for.

Please don't hesitate to contact me, Hilary Richardson, for a free, no obligation, telephone consultation on 07422500568.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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