4 April 2022

A trauma informed approach to support children with angry feelings

By: Jade Lake

What is anger?
Anger is one of many emotions that we all experience in our lives. Anger is a hot, high energy, a powerful sensation which can feel negative and stressful. Like other emotions, anger is a response to the sensory information that we continuously receive daily. We see, hear and smell what is going on around us, we process the information, and our nervous system will respond accordingly. With anger, the response is very quick and reactive; it acts as a safety mechanism to protect oneself from perceived vulnerability and neutralise threat. It causes changes to our autonomous nervous system, such as an increased heart rate, a hot face and a surge of cortisol, adrenalin, and other stress chemicals within our body.

Feeling angry
For children, feeling angry can be scary and traumatizing and can be a huge physical and mental burden to them. For example, they may feel very tense in the upper body as if they are carrying a weight on their shoulders, and it can be distracting and distressing.

During early childhood development, particularly within the first six years of life, children are learning a lot and are establishing their own core beliefs about the world, themselves, and other people. They will take what they learn as complete truth. As such, if a child is ‘labelled’ as angry or explosive, they will accept that as true and subconsciously internalise this information.

But anger does not stand alone in isolation, and it is important to be aware of the other emotions at play when children are feeling angry. Fear is often associated with feeling angry, as well as other emotions like guilt or frustration. It is important to understand what else what other emotions the child may be feeling we can support them in the best way. As practitioners, as teachers, as caring adults, it is our responsibility to recognise that children are not ’angry’ children. Their feelings of anger should not be discouraged, and they need access to discreet strategies to help their body and brain to feel safe and calm.

A door bangs shut!
A child may react in a ‘hot-headed fashion’, a reaction that appears to come out of nowhere, they may shout, have a tantrum, or even throw something.
As adults, we need to be asking - what else is going on? We should not label them as an ‘angry child’.

Supporting children with angry feelings
It is important to understand how to support children with angry feelings. When a child is feeling angry, they do not feel safe and are ultimately seeking this safety. As adults, we are responsible for being that safe and secure connection, and we need to be the foundations of help and support.

Whilst the behaviour may be outwardly unacceptable (i.e. throwing something), you should not only focus on this. To begin with, you must recognise that the child is scared and focus on being the calm, compassionate and safe figure for them. Reassure the child that they matter, their feelings matter and show them kindness. Being a consistent and unconditional figure of safety in their life will help the child’s body and brain to feel safe and calm. Simple breathing exercises are a great tool that sends calming and safety messages to the brain. Take a deep breath in, send the air down to your toes and exhale. The most effective support tools are the ones that are discreet, can be used anywhere and at any time, for example breathing a progressive muscle relaxation. These simple, but effective tools bring a sense of calm and allow the hot, angry energy to calm down.

Healing Together
Currently children are not able to access the early help and support they need due to pressures on national services such as CAMHS, and many alternative services do not feel skilled enough to provide the interventions themselves.

The Healing Together Facilitators Training upskills those working with children and young people to confidently deliver trauma informed early interventions in a space the children feel safe, as part of their current role.
Our impact data shows that over 95% of people we have trained are more likely to adopt a trauma informed approach to the rest of their work, benefitting the children that need it the most.

For more information about our Healing Together Programme or training to be a facilitator, visit the website here:



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