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Anger and Aggression

Children that are affected by a range of mental health problems can be more significantly predisposed to angry outbursts than the average population due to many factors.

Anger is a natural response to perceived threats.  It inspires powerful, often aggressive feelings and behaviours, which can trigger the “fight or flight” response to allow us to defend ourselves when we are attacked.  A certain amount of anger is therefore necessary to our survival.  It is a common and unavoidable emotion and can be a healthy emotion when it is not harmful to others. For some children, however, anger escalates quickly out of control and they are not able to regulate this emotion. Anger manifests in increased heart rate and blood pressure rise, increasing adrenaline and stress hormones (can look like: red in face, clenched fists, clenched jaw, sweating, scowling, swearing)

Aggression refers to a range of behaviours that can result in both physical and psychological harm to oneself, other or objects in the environment. The expression of aggression can occur in a number of ways, including verbally, mentally and physically.

We can not, however, physically lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys us.  Laws, social and societal rules, and common sense place limits on how far our anger should take us.

Children that are affected by a range of mental health problems can be more significantly predisposed to angry outbursts than the average population due to many factors, including:

  • Difficulty reading social cues
  • Poor social skills
  • Emotional disregulation
  • Learning disabilities
  • Rigid thinking
  • Suppressed or in-expressed anger
  • Bullying and discrimination
  • Trauma

It is important to note that kids dealing with such difficulties seem to have a lower tolerance for frustration. However, they are actually more likely chronically frustrated, and therefore more prone to anger.

  • Needs are not being met
  • Memories of traumatic or enraging events
  • Worrying about personal problems
  • Bullying, discrimination, mistreatment
  • Physical environment: too hot, too cold
  • Fatigue
  • Injury
  • Not feeling well
  • Trauma

Anger can be a “substitute emotion”.  People can change their feelings of pain into anger, instead of feeling the pain.  This is because anger feels better than pain.  It is easier to feel angry than to live with painful feelings of vulnerability.  However, anger cannot resolve what made a person vulnerable in the first place, and it can actually cause new problems, i.e. health and social issues.

Taking the time to understand how you deal with your or your child’s anger and learning to constructively deal with it can save you considerable frustration and heartache.  There are many ways of working with anger – the strategies vary depending on the age of the child and their abilities. For a template to work through anger issues, see the Kids Help Phone link below for a helpful exercise.

Your doctor or a mental health professional can also be of great help with seeking treatment.


Links or Useful Resources for Anger and Aggression:Alberta Children’s Hospital – An article to help with”DEALING WITH ANGER”: and
Anger Management - and
To Speak to a Counsellor: Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868 or
For a HelpFul Exercise:
Offord Centre for Child Studies  -…id