Anger is an emotion that can challenge even the most adept parents, and I understand this struggle firsthand. As a professional with years of experience working with families, I have witnessed the impact of uncontrolled anger and its ripple effects on family dynamics. The battles within the household can be overwhelming and crippling.
Contrary to the idea that anger outbursts should diminish with age, it is important to recognize that mastering anger and frustration is a skill that continues to develop well into our early twenties.
The prevalence of anger issues among children and teenagers is high, underscoring the ongoing necessity for parents to receive support with effective strategies and interventions.
In the first section of this article we will look at how to understand your child’s anger issues.
In the second section I will outline the strategies you’ll use:
- Adapt the Environment
- Pre-empt Triggers
- Coach Emotion Regulation Skills
- Manage Behaviour Effectively Using Proactive Strategies
- Seek Professional Help When Necessary
Parenting Angry Teens
Parenting angry teens requires large doses of empathy and warmth.
But when you are triggered, this is the last thing that you feel like doing.
Try to separate your own emotions from your child’s anger if you can.
Try to figure out what your teen’s anger is about for them. Understand that teenage anger management doesn’t just come naturally. Teens develop the ability to handle their emotions over time, with practise, and sometimes with a bit of extra coaching and modelling from you.
Often, anger in teens is a mask for other emotions. It could be anxiety, sadness, or insecurity. Anger becomes an armour. The first step in teen anger management is to help your child figure out the underlying feelings. Try labelling them, with a good dose of empathy thrown in. For example, “I think you sound angry at me but in actual fact you’re sad you didn’t get invited to the party. I would feel exactly the same.”
Defiant teens can be a challenge. Yet, their defiance often stems from their struggle to express themselves. They are testing their boundaries, seeking independence. Navigating this process is a critical part of positive teen mental health and growth.
Always approach teen behavior problems with a strategy. Consistent communication is pivotal. Make space for open dialogues. Express your concerns and expectations clearly, but remember, their opinions matter as well. Listen actively to their points of view.
Keep in mind, every parent-teen conflict is an opportunity. It’s a chance to understand their world better, to guide them, to build trust. Yes, conflict is stressful, but it can also be a stepping stone to better understanding and communication. Your relationship with your teen can grow stronger from this experience.
The challenge often lies in distinguishing between typical teen behavior and signs of more serious problems. Let me guide you through my simple approach to teen anger.
Strategies for Supporting Your Teen With Anger Issues
There are five areas to consider in tackling anger issues inteenagers, in order of importance:
1. Adapt the Environment
I often use the analogy of a cup. We each have our own cup which fills up with different stressors. Most people’s cups are about 1/3 full of ‘normal life stressors’ (e.g. work, school, cooking, washing, finances etc). However, life events can lead to our cups filling up and up.
While many young adults bear the weight of ‘normal life stressors’ such as school, friendships, and discovering their identities, there are those whose cups fill at a more rapid pace. The pressures of exams, peer expectations, and the intense emotion of growing up might cause some to overflow in the form of angry outbursts – what can feel like temper tantrums.
But remember, your stress cup matters too. To support your teen, ensure you’re practicing self-care, managing your feelings of anger, and harnessing healthy ways to cope. Remember, every teen reacts in different ways, and as they’re looking to you, it’s essential to model patience and understanding. If you are finding it difficult to stay calm with your child, read my article will with helpful advice for keeping calm.
But how can we adapt our teen’s environment to help manage and prevent stress?
- Safe Spaces: Just as we adults need a retreat from the world sometimes, so do our teens. Ensure your teen has a personal, private space in your home where they can decompress. This could be their bedroom, adorned with their favorite comforting items, or a quiet corner dedicated to relaxation.
- Open Communication Channels: Ensure there’s a conducive environment for open dialogue in your home. Regularly check in with your teen, not with the intent to pry, but to genuinely understand their feelings. If they know they can talk to you about anything without judgment and express anger safely, they’re more likely to open up about their stressors.
- Routines and Boundaries: Teenage years are full of unpredictability. While teens might resist strict routines, having a basic structure provides them with a sense of security. This could involve consistent meal times, study hours, and even designated “family time”.
- Limit Overstimulation: While technology has so many positives, it can also be a significant source of stress. Establishing tech-free zones or periods can help teens disconnect and reduce the sensory overload that often accompanies constant device usage.
- Physical Activity: Encourage hobbies that involve physical exertion, be it a sport, dance, or just regular walks. Physical activity is not only a fantastic way to release pent-up energy but also a proven method to reduce stress.
- Encourage Creative Outlets: Painting, writing, music, or any form of creative expression can be therapeutic. These outlets offer teens a way to process their emotions, providing a buffer before the “cup” overflows.
- Engaging with the School to Ensure a Minimal Stress Environment: The school, as a significant part of a teen’s daily life, plays a pivotal role in determining their stress levels. When the educational environment is a primary stressor, it’s not just about helping our teens cope; it’s about addressing the root cause. As parents, we can be advocates for our children, ensuring they feel safe, understood, and nurtured in school. Building a relationship with teachers, counselors, and school management is the first step. Do your best to address any concerns you might have in a constructive manner.
Obviously, being an advocate for your teen doesn’t mean storming the school with demands. It’s about collaboration. Work alongside educators, other parents, and even students to foster a school environment that promotes not just academic excellence but also the holistic well-being of every young adult that walks its halls.
2. Pre-empt Triggers
Every troubled teen has unique triggers. Some might be as simple as hunger or exhaustion, while others might stem from changes in routine or environment.
Spend some time observing, perhaps keeping a diary, and of course chatting with your teenager as much as possible.
The detective work will pay off.
For example, when your teen comes home from school, do they exhibit signs of depression or heightened anger? Such behaviors might be red flags.
Could it be related to issues like peer conflict, social isolation or the challenges of adapting to a increased academic demands?
Unraveling these potential causes can help us better understand their day-to-day struggles.
3. Coach Emotion Regulation Skills
Learning emotion regulation skills requires perseverance, patience and practise. Some fundamental principles of teaching children to manage big feelings (also known as “anger management skills”) in appropriate ways include:
- Like any skill, we need to help our children practice this outside of times when they are angry. It is like riding a bike. You wouldn’t expect your child to suddenly get on a bike and ride it in the Tour de France.
- Let your child know why you are practising these skills.
- Make it as creative and fun as possible.
- Use age-appropriate examples of how you deal with anger and skills that you use. Make sure to use these when you do actually feel angry to model to your child what to do when they feel angry.
- Have a range of tools for your child to use and practice releasing anger in a healthy way, such as slow breathing or bouncing on a trampoline.
- Introduce them at the first signs of anger and not when your child has hit the boiling point. It will be much harder to use them when they are very angry, then when they are a bit frustrated.
You can teach your child skills to manage their intense emotions and calm their nervous system. My article about calming an anxious or panicky child shows you some brilliant strategies. It’s important to think about the part that anxiety may be playing in your child’s anger in the teen years. Read my article on the link between anger and anxiety to help you understand this better.
4. Manage Angry Behaviour Effectively Using Proactive Strategies
It is crucial that you have a clear, consistent system for managing anger issues in your teen in a positive way. It will help them stay calm and in control.
Consistency is your best friend when managing the stormy seas of teenage years. Establish clear and fair expectations regarding behaviors.
For exmaple, the “Traffic Lights” system is a simple visual way to support positive behavior. You can read about how to use the traffic lights system here. The key component of managing behaviour successfully include:
TAKE THE QUIZ!
Your teenager should know exactly what to expect in terms of consequences, if they engage in a behaviour that is unwanted, such as physically hurting others.
If they manage to stay calm or avoid doing something that would have hurt or upset others, notice this and label their self-control. For example, “I can see that you found it really hard not to lose your temper there and I was really impressed at your self-control.”
If you’ve decided on a particular approach to address a behavior and it doesn’t show results immediately, it’s crucial to remain consistent. This communicates to your teen that you’re committed to guiding them.
For instance, if your teenager comes home late without informing you, you might decide to limit their weekend curfew for a period.
Initially, they might resist, arguing that it’s unfair or too strict.
However, with consistent enforcement, they’ll eventually recognize that responsible communication could prevent these restrictions.
Over time, you’ll likely notice an improvement in their communication habits.
For teens and parents alike, clarity is crucial.
Everyone involved should clearly understand what constitutes inappropriate expressions of anger and the potential repercussions.
Likewise, they should be aware of the expected positive behaviors and the support they can expect when those behaviors are exhibited.
“If you let your anger lead to slamming doors or shouting, there will be a period where you’ll need to hand over your phone for the evening. However, when you choose a healthier way to express or cope with your strong emotions, such as deep breathing or talking about it, we can set aside some quality time over the weekend for an activity of your choice.”
Address one anger-related issue at a time and ensure your teen comprehends the system and its underlying reasons.
The brain processes and remembers visual information better than words alone.
So, if you are seeking to encourage or discourage a particular behaviour, make a simple colourful poster (words and pictures).
It should explain exactly what the behaviour is, and what the consequence or reward is.
5. Seek Professional Help When Necessary
While angry outbursts might be typical teen reactions to the world around them, prolonged periods of anger or heightened aggressive behavior could be a red flag for a deeper mental health disorder. Recognizing these signs is the first step in seeking help.
Sometimes, beneath the mask of an angry person, lies a teen grappling with teen depression. In fact it is one of the more common symptoms of depression.
The good news? There are tools and techniques to navigate even the most challenging terrains. It might be beneficial to start with a holistic assessment of their lifestyle by a child & adolescent therapist such as a clinical psychologist, examining factors like sleep and overall well-being. Family therapy may also be helpful if there are family issues contributing to your teen’s anger.
Anger issues can impede friendships and the development of social skills such as conflict resolution. Many children and young people who demonstrate high levels of anger become self-critical and ashamed. This contributes to low self-esteem.
If aggressive behavior, physical aggression or violent behavior have been present for a long time a child may end up with a diagnosis of conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder. In general psychologists tend to avoid such labels. Many of us feel that these labels merely describe patterns of behaviour, rather than looking at what is causing the angry feelings.
Before seeking help you may wish to do a “lifestyle health check” and make some small changes. This article about lifestyle and wellbeing will guide you. If your child is not getting enough sleep, for example, their brain is less able to cope with demand and more likely to flip into fight or flight, including aggressive behaviour.
The following articles contain brilliant free resources for your child:
Treatment for Anger Issues in Children and Teenagers
Mental health professionals use a range of therapeutic approaches to support teens who have an anger problem.
Psychologists will undertake a full assessment. They will consider mental health issues and what factors could be contributing to the problem.
They will then develop a treatment plan. This plan will involve supporting your child to develop skills to identify and manage intense emotions. It may also involve adapting the environment so that it is less demanding or overwhelming for your child.
In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, your psychologist may use aspects of newer therapies such as CFT (Compassion Focused Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). Talking therapy will often be combined with body-based strategies such as mindfulness.
To find a psychologist speak to your child’s doctor, who may refer you to a specialist. In the UK this may be NHS service such as CAMHS (child & adolescent mental health service). CAMHS teams contain not only clinical psychologists like me, but other professionals such as a family therapist and child and adolescent psychiatrist, who may be involved in your child’s care.
Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years.
In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children. Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.
Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.
To learn more tips for helping your child manage stress, join my Facebook group, Parent Tips For Positive Child Mental health UK.