understanding anger - supporting a young person

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You may be a parent, sibling, partner or supportive friend who is supporting a young person. If they are expressing anger often or have trouble controlling anger, you may be in a good position to help them become more self-aware and express it in healthy ways.

Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. It can help us to deal with difficult situations, help us to understand what's important to us. It can also help us stand up for ourselves or others and motivate us. Some people find anger easier to express than a more vulnerable emotion such as embarrassment or hurt. Learning to be aware of our anger, understanding it and expressing it appropriately is a part of good mental health.


The adolescent brain and strong feelings

Young people’s brains go through a stage of explosive growth during adolescence. The brain is still ‘under construction’ until around 25 years of age; building the young person’s capacity to regulate strong emotions, connect with the clear-thinking part of their brain and ‘put the brakes’ on impulsive behaviour. There is evidence that young people experience emotions, including anger, more intensely than at other stages of life.

When you are supporting a young person, it is helpful to understand whether their anger is a normal expression of emotion or whether it may be a problem.

Anger can become a problem when it affects a person’s daily life and/or relationships. This might be when the anger feels ‘too much’ or hard to control or expressed in ways that hurt the person or others around them. Anger can be a sign that the person is experiencing other feelings such as sadness, grief, hurt, powerlessness or fear.

Signs that anger might be a problem

These include when a person is: 

  • feeling angry frequently
  • overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings
  • having trouble controlling anger
  • using alcohol or other drugs to manage anger
  • bottling feelings up rather than dealing with them
  • being aggressive or violent (e.g., shouting, swearing, throwing or hitting things)
  • causing others to feel scared or intimidated.


How can you respond to someone who is expressing anger?

  • Stay calm. While it is easy to react with anger, you can have more influence if you remain calm. This will allow you to think clearly and have more may help stop the young person’s anger from escalating.


  • Listen. Allow your young person to express their feelings without judging them. If someone feels listened to and understood, they are more likely to feel calmer.b


  • Acknowledge their feelings. Telling someone to calm down doesn’t really work, but acknowledging their feelings can have an immediate effect e.g. I can see you are angry” or “You feel really strongly about this”


  • Be curious. Ask about what has set off such a strong response or what other emotions might be underneath the anger. This shows that you genuinely care and encourages the young person to reflect on what else they may be feeling that is difficult to express.


  • Give them space. If the conversation is not getting anywhere, give the young person time and space to re-set and reflect. Encourage them to go for a walk or have some time in their room as a way of looking after themselves. If they are upset, stay aware of where they are. Forcing a conversation won’t work but let them know that you are there to talk if and when they feel ready.

The conversation

Think about a time and place where your young person is more likely to be relaxed and open to a conversation about the anger and/or aggression.

  • Let your young person know that anger is a normal emotion and OK for them to feel angry at times.
  • Encourage them to recognise and name the feeling. This ability will help them understand what is going on for them and learn ways of regulating the strong feelings.
  • Share your concerns if you think that anger seems to be a problem and/or is having a negative impact on others.
  • Encourage them to be curious about the things that trigger their anger or lie under the anger. This will help them be more prepared in the future.
  • Share how you have learnt to manage anger, recognising that your young person may choose a different approach.
  • Rather than getting an agreement that it will never happen again, plan for ‘if or when’ there is a next time.
  • Explore the strategies that have worked for them or could work in the future.
  • Set or (where possible) negotiate boundaries for behaviour and the consequences if these are not observed.


Role modelling

How you respond when you are angry can have a big impact on how your young person manages their anger. You can model strategies for managing strong feelings which can set an example for them to follow.

Together you and your young person can generate ideas for what they can do to manage their anger. Here are some practical ways to make a difference.

Notice: Encourage your young person to recognise the feeling and be curious about what is going on for them. This self- awareness is the first step in regulating their feelings and behaviour.

Get physical: Physical exertion can change a person’s internal state. Activities like pounding a ball, kicking a footy, doing push-ups or dancing can work.

Relaxation: Learning relaxation techniques can be effective in calming down enough to think more clearly and not be taken over by emotions. Taking deep breaths or tensing and releasing the muscles are useful exercises to practise. Having a shower can be relaxing.

Connect with pets: Animals can have a calming effect on humans. Cuddling the cat or playing with the dog can be comforting or a fun distraction.

Music: Music is a powerful way of changing a mood. Your young person is likely to know which music has a calming effect for them.  Playing a musical instrument can be a creative release. Drumming is a great way to regulate strong feelings and can be done with a drum kit or a homemade version.

Journalling: Writing is a reflective exercise that can ‘slow things down’. Journalling can lead to insights about what strong feelings are connected to and how they affect behaviour. 

Talking to someone: It may not be you that the young person chooses to talk to and that’s OK. You can encourage your young person to recognise who they trust and can talk to about how they are feeling.

Anger vs aggression

Anger can lead to people being aggressive or violent, but they are not the same. Anger is a feeling, while aggression and violence are actions. Anger can sometimes be intense and overwhelming, but it doesn't mean the person experiencing anger becomes violent or aggressive.

  • Establish boundaries for aggressive behaviour. Remind the young person about the boundaries for behaviour and that aggressive behaviour is not OK. Boundaries and consequences for younger adolescents may be set by their parents, whereas boundaries and consequences for older adolescents may be negotiated. 

  • Encourage them to use their strategies. Remind them of the strategies that work for them to interrupt what is happening.

  • Keep yourself, and others, safe. It is never OK for someone to hurt other people or property. If your young person’s behaviour is outside the boundaries you’ve set, remove yourself and others from the situation. When everyone is calm, revisit boundaries, discuss what was contributing to the anger and explore healthier ways they can manage their anger.

  • Help them to seek professional help. If your young person’s anger continues without improvement, you could help them to research anger management courses, or help arrange for them to see their GP or a mental health professional. For more information, see ‘How to support a family member’.

Look after yourself

Family often neglects their own needs because they are busy looking after others or feel guilty taking time for themselves. It’s important that you look after your own mental health. Check out our tips on self care for family and friends. Talk to someone you trust or seek professional help.

Further information and support

Professional support is available for both you and your young person. For more information, visit eheadspace for online and phone support or find your nearest headspace centre.


Other useful resources

Parent helplines (in every State and Territory of Australia) – Google ‘Parentline’ along with your State or Territory 

  • Raising Children Network is an online resource for parents and carers filled with tips and tools for raising young people.

  • Beyond Blue has lots of resources on mental health and runs online forums.

  • ReachOut has resources to help under 25s and their parents through tough times. 

  • Peer led chats for family and friends hosts many discussions on a range of topics for those supporting a young person. 

  • headspace has a number of interactive tools that can help young people and their family reflect on their needs, engage in skill building and set meaningful goals to improve mental health and wellbeing. 


The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

Last reviewed November 2023

Google Scholar 2018-2020
Search terms
Anger and young people (+ meta-analysis and systematic review)
Anger and psychoeducation (+ meta-analysis and systematic review)

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headspace (2020), Clinical Tips: Anger. Clinical Toolkit. https://headspace.org.au/assets/download-cards/CT-Anger.pdf

headspace (2016). Mythbuster: Moving away from common myths to a better understanding of anger and anger-related difficulties in young people (headspace.org.au)

Hyoeun L, DiGiuseppe R (2018). Anger and aggression treatments: a review of meta-analyses. Science Direct,19: 65-74. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352250X17300520


Scanlan F, Interview and review (2021), Subject Matter Expert, Senior Clinical Advisor headspace

Scanlan F, Parker A & Montague A (2016) Evidence Summary: Understanding and assessing anger-related difficulties in young people – A guide for clinicians. Orygen – the National Centre of Youth Mental Health. Melbourne. https://headspace.org.au/assets/download-cards/OR17177-EvidenceSummary-Anger-WEB.pdf

Siegal, D, J. MD (2014) Brainstorm, the Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. https://drdansiegel.com/book/brainstorm/

Siegal, D. J, MD., and Mary Hartzell, M.Ed. (2013) Parenting from the Inside Out, How A Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive. https://drdansiegel.com/book/parenting-from-the-inside-out/


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