Anger in teens can be particularly frightening or upsetting for the adults around them. Teens are at a time of their lives when emotions can overcome them and they don’t know what to do with these strong feelings. As parents and care givers, we may feel overwhelmed in the face of such strong emotions, or unsure how best to deal with the aggressive behaviours that often accompany extreme anger.
Firstly, we need to examine our own experiences of anger. If you were taught it wasn’t okay to be angry, you may consciously or unconsciously project this belief onto your children. You will find it helpful to try and put this belief aside and concentrate on teaching your teens how to manage their anger in appropriate ways.
Children and adults can get angry for a wide range of reasons. Some of the more common ones are:
- Loneliness or rejection
- Needing an emotional connection
- Embarrassment or humiliation
- Physical illness
- Perceived or actual injustices
- Hormonal fluctuations
- A feeling of powerlessness
Anger often occurs when a need or desire isn’t met, or when a goal is blocked. The best thing we can do for our children is to ensure we address as many of the issues in the list above as we can. This will help them deal better with any other needs or blocked goals.
Pre-teens and teenagers will often start having more frequent outbursts again. This is due to their sudden increase in hormones and the stress of dealing with the changes involved in developing into an adult, both emotionally and physically. Children at this age are able to reason more effectively, however they are still developing the skills to anticipate consequences, which may impact on their anger levels. Teenagers may become angry because they feel like they are growing into adults, yet are still treated like children.
How to deal with teenage anger
The best time to deal with anger is before it hits. Below are some tips for creating a safe emotional environment in your family:
For all ages:
- Talk about your feelings and listen to your children talk about theirs non-judgmentally.
- Make sure your children understand that their feelings are okay.
- Don’t laugh or belittle them for their feelings. If they are reacting disproportionately, that is generally a sign something else is going on for them. Take some time to sit down with them and work out what the deeper problem is.
- Model good responses to situations that make you angry.
- Discuss with your children what “gets their goat” or arouses anger in them.
- Discuss with your children what helps them calm down. Some might want a hug, others might want space. Would a punching bag in their room help them vent or could they express their emotions in a diary?
- Ensure that any triggers for your child are avoided as much as possible.
For older children
- Teach them how to self regulate their emotional and physical health so that anger triggers are less likely to set them off.
- Teach them to identify the feelings underneath their anger. Perhaps they are feeling hurt because their friends didn’t play with them at lunch time and that is making them feel angry.
- Encourage them to use words to label different levels and incidents of anger, eg. I was annoyed because so and so took that last biscuit; I was hurt because so and so didn’t want to go to the movies with me, I was furious because my teacher didn’t believe me.
- Teach them to express how they are feeling using ‘I’ statements, eg. I am feeling annoyed because you are on the computer and I need to finish my homework for tomorrow.
- Encourage them to see the other person’s point of view. Have they explained to their brother that their assignment is due tomorrow and they need the computer to finish it off?
So what do you do when your child reacts inappropriately?
- Safety should be your primary concern here. Evaluate whether your child or someone else is likely to be hurt and act quickly to minimise the risk. You may need to remove an object from your child, remove your child from a location, or if this isn’t possible ask the other children to remove themselves while you deal with the child. If you are dealing with an older child and are feeling like your personal safety is at risk, leave the situation as soon as you can and call someone to help you.
- Your next response depends very much on the situation and individual child.
- If you know your child likes space when angry, say something like: I’m just going to read my book over in the corner. Come to me when you’re ready to talk.
- If your child likes physical comfort, offer them a hug.
- If you know there are particular triggers that have exacerbated the situation, deal with them. Are they hungry? Thirsty? Overstimulated?
- Don’t try to reason with your child until they have calmed down
- Don’t punish your child for feeling angry, although you may want to impose some consequences for any inappropriate responses. Eg replacing a glass they broke.
When to seek help
- If you are feeling like you cannot cope with your child’s anger.
- If you are concerned for their safety, your safety or the safety of others.
- If an older child has frequent difficulty explaining their anger after it occurs.
- If the anger is getting in the way of your day to day life.
- If your child has a sudden unexplained increase in angry episodes.
- If your child seems angry more often than they are not.
- If teachers or caregivers have expressed concern about your child’s anger.
- It may be beneficial for your child to talk to someone about their feelings if there are other stresses going on, eg. divorce, death, moving, sickness.
Skylight Trust has put together a great selection of resources dealing with anger management. They can be found here: http://www.skylight.org.nz/uploads/files/anger_toolboxs_suggested_books_and_links_about_anger.pdf
This article has some great ideas to help you build resilience in your teen.
Where to go for help
Your child’s GP, or teacher may be able to provide help.
Parent help line: 0800 568 856