Anger is a normal, healthy emotion that all humans experience internally and externally. For teenagers navigating physical and emotional changes, anger can become a more present emotion for them. As they are not yet fully emotionally mature to deal with them, problems can start to emerge.
What is the best way to help your teenager with anger? In this article we’ll explore some anger management techniques for teenagers. We’ll give you some ideas on how you and other family members can support them in a healthy way.
Identifying Anger in Your Teen
Anger isn’t only lashing out, anger outbursts or shouting! Your teen’s anger can show itself in many different ways. Try to make yourself aware of signs to look out for, as some might be less obvious.
Anger management for teens is very much a team effort. In the teenage years they will need help from you to identify triggers and test out anger reducing techniques.
Internal Anger Characteristics
- Low self-esteem or a dysregulated mood.
- Negative self-talk such as “I’m rubbish at this”, “I’ll never make it”, “I always forget”.
- Self-sabotage behaviour – for instance, not trying because they fear failure.
- Repressed anger – when angry feelings are turned inwards on themselves, this can contribute towards depression or anxiety. There is a very strong link between anger and anxiety which you can read more about here.
External Anger Characteristics
- Shouting and yelling or screaming and crying.
- Irritability – this can be in response to life stresses, a lack of sleep, low blood sugar levels or hormonal changes.
- Blaming others, not themselves.
- Explosive or self-destructive tendencies.
- Physically aggressive behavior.
- Disciplinary issues at school.
- Being passive-aggressive – this is where anger is communicated indirectly, for example via sarcasm, gossip or “humour”.
Reasons for Teen Anger
Anger issues are often a sign that your child is finding it difficult to process or cope with a deeper or more subtle emotion or experience. Here are some examples:
- ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) E.g. illness, death of a loved one, neglect, sexual or physical abuse.
- Diagnosis of a mental health disorder such as: Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Substance or alcohol abuse.
- Learning challenges such as ADHD and dyslexia.
- Hormonal changes in the body and associated mood swings.
- Massive changes in the brain during the teen years, particularly in the prefrontal cortex.
- Feeling scared or attacked, stressed or powerless.
- Being bullied or discriminated against.
- General stress of being a teenager in our modern, busy, demanding world. It can be hard in these circumstances to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
- School pressure: academic, social or sensory overwhelm. Sometimes this gets bottled up and comes out as anger after school.
- World events that affect current life or future plans.
When is Anger a Problem?
A child’s anger only becomes a problem when it gets out of control. Here are some warning signs:
- They express their anger in unhealthy or unsafe ways.
- Their anger is affecting their everyday life or family life.
- Their anger is affecting their relationships and the people around them.
- Anger is their go-to emotion in difficult situations and it’s all they can think about.
What Professional Help is Available?
There is help available for anger management problems in teenagers and it is vital that we recognise the underlying reasons as well as the surface anger. The first step is to talk to your GP. They can listen to how your teenager is feeling and behaving and talk with them about whether they need further support. Treatment and support for anger often focuses on underlying mental health issues, current problems or things that have happened in the past.
The doctor may refer them to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) so they can talk to a specialist about their anger and explore the right way to deal with it. They may also suggest counselling or therapy.
There are other options available if your child cannot be supported by the NHS, though many of these are paid services. Find out about the different types of child therapists and how to access them in this article.
What Can You Do to Help Your Angry Teenager?
When a child experiences angry outbursts they are usually in flight, flight or freeze mode. Processing information or acting on instructions can sometimes feel incredibly overwhelming. So, it’s actually best to keep talking to a minimum.
The best thing to do is let your teenager know that experiencing angry emotions is a normal part of growing up and that they are not alone.
If anger is big and they are destroying things around them – set up a safe place where they can go. Allow them to choose a place where they can be undisturbed. It may contain “tools” to help them soothe and calm their nervous system such as headphones for playing music, a soft blanket or a stress toy.
Encourage your teenager to self-regulate their intense emotions, but be ready to step in if they need guidance. Our article on emotion regulation contains specific strategies you can try.
What to Say (and What Not to Say)
Try saying something like “I’m here for you”, “You’re angry; I get it” or “I understand.” This will let them know you are there, but you’re not demanding anything from them or setting expectations of them. Reactive parenting is not the most effective way to encourage positive behaviour in your child. Try to avoid further confrontation, threatening punishments or ‘labelling’ your child during angry outbursts. E.g. ‘you’re rude’, ‘you’re so disrespectful’, ‘you’re wrong’.
Make sure you focus on listening to your child just as much as talking.
After an Angry Outburst
Talk things through in a quiet and neutral tone when you are both calm. Explore what happened, and what might help in a situation like this in the future. What was missing? Could anything have contained the situation for them? What could they do next time?
Strategies and Techniques
Lots of great anger management techniques are open to teenagers. Once they have discovered what helps them the best, familiarise yourself with their ‘go to’ strategies. Many of these strategies take time and persistence to master.
In a world where everyone wants quick fixes this can be tricky to accept. However, practising them regularly over time will pay huge dividends. For example, regular slow, deep breathing is one of the most effective techniques for calming the nervous system and managing strong emotions. Deep breaths quickly trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to calm us down.
It’s not easy to make this a habit but I recommend encouraging your child to start checking in with their breathing for just one minute, a few times each day. They can always set reminders on a phone.
Regular exercise is also vital. It stimulates the release of calming chemicals including serotonin and endorphins.
Remember – you, the parent, can only do so much. If your child can’t or won’t engage with techniques to regulate their anger, you can only try to build their insight and awareness over time. Here are some effective and quick strategies for you to try.
Be a Good Role Model
No-one is perfect. However, try to be a good example of how to deal with your own anger. Show awareness of the impact anger has on others. You will find these quick tips for staying calm with your child helpful.
Set consistent boundaries and give your teenager clarity about what you expect of them. If your child is argumentative and this leads to conflict, one important thing to bear in mind is that planning your responses in advance can prevent escalation. Our tips in this article about boundaries will guide you.
You might also find it really helpful to develop an anger management contract with your child. Anger management contracts must focus on only one behaviour at a time. They must also be collaborative. In other words, as well as what your child needs to do, what do you as a parent need to do to help your child achieve their anger management goal?
Teach Positive Emotional Vocabulary
Teach your child words that can help them to describe how they’re feeling emotionally, not just in angry situations. Having a wide vocabulary of positive adjectives and verbs will help them to develop healthy self-talk language. This can help boost confidence self-esteem.
If your child struggles to put their feelings into words, take a look at our article about expressing emotions for some great ideas.
Anger Management Techniques for Teenagers
What is Anger Management for Teens?
Anger management for teens refers to the process of managing helping teens identify, express and manage anger in a healthier way. It’s not simply about getting a teenager to stop being angry. Anger management techniques should help to identify the root cause of the anger and then address it.
The root cause might be something simple like being thirsty, hungry, or sleep deprived. Or, it could be something more complex, like feeling misunderstood or ignored.
Mental health professionals favour teaching children that anger is a normal emotion and to express it an appropriate way, which doesn’t negatively affect others. For example, throwing chairs across a classroom and risking the safety of other pupils is not appropriate behaviour.
It is okay for young people to express anger if they are in control of it and it gets a helpful result. For instance, letting someone else know how they feel, or getting the feeling out so that it is no longer “pent up” in their body.
Anger management interventions seek to increase awareness of both appropriate and inappropriate ways of expressing anger. Effective anger management for teens teaches them to build a “toolkit” of anger-reducing techniques and methods for healthy expression of anger.
CBT Based Anger Management Techniques for Teenagers
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people understand their anger and channel it as a positive and constructive force. Teen anger management interventions involve “restructuring” (gently adapting) their unhelpful thoughts which trigger anger.
CBT-based anger interventions use a range of questions and exercises to help teens understand the triggers which can cause anger to become too intense and which may lead to angry outbursts.
Building up foundational techniques and confidence will help your teenager to better address situations that would have previously triggered unhelpful angry outbursts.
How it Works
- Explore the source of anger.
- Learn strategies to reduce overwhelming physiological responses.
- Replace unhelpful angry actions with clear and effective communication which gives you better results.
- Develop coping strategies.
- Master how to channel anger in a way positive way that enhances, rather than damages relationships and express thoughts and feelings and beliefs assertively without losing control.
Brain Development and Anger Management in Adolescence
The emotions teenagers feel can be challenging to regulate. Emotion regulation is a skill that develops over time and with maturity. In the teenage years the “thinking” part of the brain and the emotion centre of the brain are not well connected. So, the emotion may be out of control before an adolescent is able to inhibit it.
The adolescent brain is not fully developed until at least around age 25 years. This period of time is characterised by many physical and emotional changes.
There are four anger reduction techniques which will help teens to regulate emotions.
- Cognitive reappraisal – this technique is used to change the way a person thinks of a situation or event in order to alleviate emotional distress.
- Expressive writing – (or singing, talking, or any other kind of expression!). Through writing about an issue on paper the brain can process the issues around it more effectively and develop new ways to think about it. In my experience this is one of the most effective strategies for anger management in teens.
- Distraction – finding something else to focus on. It could be an object or activity.
- Exercise – one of the best forms of teen anger management, as it is so easily accessible for most teens. Physical activity helps the body to release endorphins which are chemicals that produce feelings of well-being and calm.
A key message here is that anger management for teens involves a great deal of support from parents and other adults. Teens cannot fully regulate their own emotions. In order to take on board anger management techniques effectively, they need calm, well-regulated adults to physically help them.
For example, your child may need reminders to use the strategies above. Or they may need you to “co-regulate” them more directly. e.g. holding them tight, speaking to them in a low, calm voice or just sitting near them until the anger passes.
Family Therapy and Psychodynamic Therapy
Anger management issues within a family can make relationships difficult. Family therapy can be helpful in situations where teen anger is directed at family members. It can enable you to work together to improve communication and resolve issues.
Psychodynamic therapy can help your teenager understand how their current feelings and behaviour are shaped by their past experiences, unconscious mind and impulses.
The Teen’s Essential Anger Management Toolkit
Here are some ideas and active behaviours that could prove useful for your teenager to have in an ‘Anger Management Toolkit’– you and your teen may be able to think of others which they can tailor to suit.
Youth Anger Management Toolkit
Anger management for teens is not one single strategy, and it’s certainly not “one size fits all”. Think of it as a journey of discovery. You are going to help your teenager gather and maintain a toolkit of effective anger management strategies. Each of these anger management skills should develop one or more of the following areas:
1. Insight/ Understanding
Identify why I feel angry, what’s happening for or to me?
Learning to spot physical signs of anger (such as increased heart rate, dry mouth or flushed skin.
3. In the Moment Strategies
Taking deep slow breaths, adopting progressive muscle relaxation exercises and other relaxation techniques.
Sometimes the most powerful strategy is simply caring for myself by taking time off from whatever makes me angry and doing an activity that makes me happy instead (exercising, listening to music, reading a book).
5. Self Praise
Self praise and positive self talk will help me feel good about when I manage my anger well. It will help to build my confidence that I am able to find alternative and healthy pathways to express my anger.
6. Move Away
Sometimes it’s best to walk away or remove myself from a situation in which I am becoming more and more angry. I can plan to go to another room or go out in the fresh air. Essentially, I can change to an alternative environment where my anger can be diffused.
7. Accept Help
It’s really good that I try to help myself, but I can also ask for help if I need it.
8. Get Active
As an example, yoga might be something I could try as it can help me to become more aware of my body sensations. You can read more about yoga for teens in this article.
Summary: Anger Management Techniques for Teenagers
Teenagers have a lot to deal with as they go through adolescence. Understanding where anger comes from and finding and using healthy anger management skills will positively impact their relationships with others and themselves.
Books on Teen Anger Management Skills
Hayley Vaughan Smith is a Person Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and Counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.
Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and has worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care since 2019.
Being a mum to 3 girls is hard work and rewarding in equal measure and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy – Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.
Are you the parent of a 6-16 year-old? Join They Are The Future’s free Facebook group for regular tips on supporting teens and pre-teens with their mental health! Join the group: Parent Tips for Positive Child Mental Health UK.