Helping Teens Manage Their Anger
Let’s face it; the teen years can be challenging; both for them and for you. Right now may be worse than usual since so many of our kids are home and doing school virtually. Covid has upended their lives both academically and socially. They have fewer outlets for their stress and a lot going on inside them.
Our kids' hormones are raging, they are constantly testing our boundaries, and they are racing towards adulthood as we try to get them to hold onto these final days of childhood just a little longer. It’s not surprising during these teen years that a good amount of relationship conflict arises between them and us.
Anger is a typical, healthy emotional response to the stress teens experience at this stage in life. We need to give our kids the right to feel and own anger—and the tools to do so. After all, anger helps us understand when our buttons are being pushed, our values are not respected, or someone is ignoring our boundaries.
How Do We Help Our Kids Handle Anger?
But how can we help our teens feel and express that anger without going overboard and throwing a fit? The starting point in dealing with angry feelings is to acknowledge them. Without being judgmental, say to your teen, “I can see why you’re angry.” This helps our teens feel validated so they can accept these strong emotions and begin to work through them. It also keeps us from becoming another source of anger or the target and puts us in a better position to help them cope.
The next step is for our teens to figure out the triggers for their anger. What is the root of the emotion? For instance, if a friend shares a secret with someone else. Yes, your teen is probably mad, but what other emotions is that anger masking? Is she or he hurt that a friend broke their trust; embarrassed that someone else knows and worried it might result in being laughed at or judged? It is often more complicated than “just” anger. The emotion of anger lets us know that something is wrong, but it also involves thought, feeling, and action. When our teens can take control of any one of these, they are in a better position to manage their anger in a healthy way.
Understanding anger in our kids also means understanding our own relationship to anger. Growing up I was often told “you’re not mad, you’re just hungry. Or tired. Or…” And now as a mom, I totally get where that was coming from–hangry has been around for a very long time!But to dismiss all their intense feelings with a Snickers bar as the solution sends the wrong message
As Parents We Need To Understand Our Relationship To Anger
As a teen and into adulthood, I closed up when I was angry. I tamped down my feelings because I was told that wasn’t what I felt. So much so that I stopped recognizing anger altogether in myself. One time in college I was on the phone with my boyfriend after taking a long run, and he asked me what was wrong. I was confused—nothing was wrong. But then he said something I will never forget; he said “ you always run when you’re mad. It’s what you do. You clean and you go for a run.” And, when I thought about it; he wasn’t wrong. I was lucky my outlet had been running, But too often, when young people find a way to avoid feeling angry the outcome is much more negative. They may get depressed or use drugs or alcohol to push away or cover up emotions that they think aren’t valid.
It’s also important that we are dealing with our own anger in productive ways, because then we can better serve as role models for our teens. We should be willing to talk about our feelings in an acceptable way, to show them how we cope with our emotions, and if we lose it (which we will because we’re raising teenagers), we should apologize and talk with them about how we could have done better. If my husband and I argue in front of the kids (it happens!), we later apologize and explain that though we’re angry and fighting, we still love each other.
Teen Anger Can Pass As Quickly As It Comes
While we teach our kids what anger is, how to identify it and that anger is ok, we also need to teach them how to express it appropriately. Anger can pass as quickly as it comes in a hormonal teenager. So, suggest simple tricks like leaving the room to be alone or walking outside. Sometimes just a change of scenery or listening to music is enough to change the mood. Another approach is teaching them mindfulness and slow, deep breathing – this is a lifelong skill that will help them with almost any intense emotion.
But remember, even once we’ve given them all these tools for handling their anger, it doesn’t mean they won’t act out. It’s easy to get caught up when your teen is angry or in a funk, so remind yourself these behaviors are a way of expressing or dealing with a more complex issue. Their actions and moods are often masking something else that’s going on – quite likely unrelated to whatever may have triggered them with you. The best thing you can do is listen openly or, if they are really having a moment, leave the room.
Sometimes your teen may need a little space before they are ready to tell you what’s wrong. For me, the best time to find out what was going on with my teens was at night. Bedtime allowed some quiet space for us to connect. No pressure, often no light to see them even. That dark, quiet place allowed them to open up or just to be.