8 Ways Parents Can Help Teens to Manage Anger
Getting angry is a normal reaction and natural emotion, but yelling, attacking someone with nasty words or judgments, getting violent, or generally reacting in an uncomfortable or out-of-control way is socially unacceptable behavior. Dealing with the emotions you feel inside – frustration, disappointment, hurt feelings – is an important skill to acquire that can help anyone throughout their personal and professional life. People who learn coping skills for managing their anger have better relationships with others, feel better emotionally, and are more successful. So here are 8 ways that parents can help their teens manage their anger:
1. Establish Clear Expectations for Behavior in Your Family
People are guided by the expectations of those around them. If your family expects people to yell every time they get mad, then your teen will follow that example. Conversely, if your family does not tolerate name calling, threats, screaming, or physical violence, then your teen will be more likely to rein in their anger. Parents should role model appropriate behavior in the household, establish clear rules, and set consequences for breaking those rules. It is important that your teen understands that you are in charge of the household, as well as your own emotions.
2. Teach Your Teen the Difference Between Aggression and Assertiveness
Take the time to talk to your teen about anger. Explain that while angry feelings are completely acceptable, aggressive behavior is not. Define aggression for them as making threats, calling people names, slamming doors, breaking objects, or pushing someone. Discuss the potential consequences of aggressive behavior. However, be sure to explain that while they shouldn’t be aggressive (intimidating), they should be assertive. Assertiveness is standing up for your right to be treated fairly and/or advocating for yourself in a clear, direct and honest way that is positive and proactive. Next week, we will offer a blog about how to teach your teen to be assertive.
3. Sincerely Listen
When you listen without interrupting or judging, you are sending a powerful message to your teen that you care about what they think and feel, and that you’re willing to consider their viewpoint, even if you disagree. Express empathy for your child, and imagine yourself in your teen’s situation. Many times, repeating back what your teen says to you, or saying you can understand why they feel a certain way, will help them know that they are being heard and feel understood. Be careful of your tone, because the slightest hint of sarcasm, cynicism, judgment or insincerity will damage your efforts and relationship.
4. Avoid Correcting While your Teen is Angry
When someone is angry, they are not ready to hear what they should be doing better, or how they should change. There will be a time to offer your child instruction or discipline, but it is when they are calm. It is often helpful to share some of your own similar struggles or experiences with your teen, but again, if they aren’t calm first, then you will be wasting your breath. Let your teen vent their anger and give them your full attention. Parents should actively listen and express empathy for their teen’s plight. After listening, parents can recommend ways their teen can calm down (see #6 coping skills below), and then, when they are calm, parents can offer correction or problem-solving suggestions.
5. Help Your Teen Identify Triggers and Signs
Adolescents must learn to identify their triggers (things that always make them angry) and their physical warning signs that they are becoming angry.
Triggers. If there are certain things that your teen knows always bother him, you can teach him to make decisions about how to manage these triggers. Sometimes your teen can learn to avoid them. Other times, your teen’s triggers may not be avoidable. Parents can help their teenager develop a strategy to help them stay in control of their emotions in those times.
Warning Signs. When people begin to grow angry, there are physical warning signs. Your teen may feel like their heart is racing, they might be breathing faster, their face might flush, their muscles may tighten, or they could feel hot or sweaty. Teach your teen how to recognize their body’s own warning signs. When they notice their body beginning to react, it’s time to use an appropriate coping skill.
6. Encourage Coping Skills
Teens must have an arsenal of socially appropriate ways to deal with angry feelings in their back pocket, ready to use when anger rears its ugly head. Teens who lack coping skills are more likely to become verbally or physically aggressive. Following are positive coping skills your teen can use:
- Art. Studies show that drawing, dancing, writing in a journal, or playing/listening to music are all excellent methods for relaxation and expressing oneself in a constructive way.
- Exercise. Taking a walk or run, working out at the gym, or getting into a favorite yoga pose can help people to calm down.
- Relaxation techniques. Take slow deep breaths. Close your eyes and think about a person, place, or thing that makes you feel calm. Repeat a calming word or sentence.
- Take a time-out. When discussions get heated, taking a 15-minute break to calm down and gain self-control can diffuse anger. If your teen chooses to take a time-out when you are disagreeing, respect their space and maturity. Don’t follow him/her or insist on continuing the conversation while he/ she is still upset.
7. Teach Teens Problem-Solving Skills
Problem-solving is one of the most important skills anyone can learn. Parents absolutely should take the time to help their teen develop this valuable skill set. Problem-solving helps teens identify the pros and the cons of potential solutions before taking action. If your teen understands that there are many possible solutions to a problem, he’s more likely to spend a few minutes examining his options rather than resorting to aggressive behavior. When faced with a difficult situation or conflict, encourage your teen to learn as much as he can about it, consider what happened, and identify all the feelings he’s experiencing. This will prevent him from making quick judgments that may be wrong. Explain that there are many ways to look at the same situation. Help your teen think through the consequences of each possible solution and determine how his behavior will affect himself and those around him.
8. Role Model Appropriate Behavior
Youth learn how to deal with their feelings through example. Children watch us more than we think and absorb our actions. Seeing how you react in various situations is the most powerful teacher to your child, so be sure to handle your own anger appropriately. If you yell, swear, and break things, don’t expect your teen to control his/her anger. Show your child how to talk about angry feelings calmly. For example, you might say, “I’m really angry that you didn’t clean your room like I asked you to. I’m going to go take a break to calm down for a few minutes, and then, we’re going to talk about your consequence.”