Being the parent of a teenager can be just about as scary as having to go to the dentist for a root canal… EVERY DAY! Adolescence is a time when teens push boundaries, raise voices and often blame and shut out parents. In fact, your teenager may seem to live in a perpetual state of anger: yelling, slamming doors, sulking in their room and rolling their eyes like a pair of dice on a hot run at the craps table.
Innocent questions such as, “How was school today?” or, “What do you want for lunch?” or really, any attempt to make pleasant conversation by you can seem to enrage your teen. This brings us to the million-dollar question, “How can I help my teenager cope with anger?” Although there is no wave of a wand trick to get rid of your teenager’s anger here are some tips to help you and your teen better manage anger.
Space and Time
We have all been in the heat of the moment and said things we did not mean. A moment later, we immediately regret the words that came out of our mouths. It is important to allow your teenager some time and space to cool off and gather their thoughts before addressing what they rudely, yet impulsively blurted out at you. Time and patience will help both of you to avoid those big and ugly angry outbursts that get out of control. For example, your teenager may need to take a ten-minute break to take a lap around the block or go to their room to draw. Allowing your teenager the time to cool down can help reduce their anger and lead to better communication between you and your teen. When you notice your teen’s emotions rising you may try saying,
“I understand you’re angry, why don’t we take a break and we can continue talking when you’re ready. Let’s touch base in thirty minutes.”
There may be times when your teen won’t back down and will continue to engage you in a pointless argument, not taking the time to cool off. If you’re feeling your own anger start to bubble it may be best to take the time for yourself to calm down. For instance, you can say to your teen,
“I feel a little agitated and don’t want to say something I don’t mean, I need to take a few minutes to collect myself before we continue talking.”
By doing so not only are you bringing your blood pressure down but you’re also modeling positive communication and good conflict resolution skills to your teen.
Acknowledge Their Emotions & Listen
Your teenager may be experiencing many emotions all at once and not be able to make sense of any of them. This is a time where your teen may be struggling with school, making friends, and discovering their own identity and where they fit in. Your teenager may be under a lot of stress manifesting as anger. When your teenager is angry, sit with them and allow them to say what they need to say without interrupting. Your teenager might not be looking for solutions to their problems, they may want to be heard and supported. When your teen feels that you are listening and not lecturing, they may feel more comfortable to come and talk to you about what is angering them. The safe space you create through your patience and compassion may begin to demonstrate the safety that your teen needs to trust you with their more vulnerable feelings. Openly talking about their feelings helps your teenager to better manage their emotions because they will feel validated and respected. This is important because when your teenager does not feel that their emotions are validated or respected, they will most likely shut you out or at the very least become resistant to sharing their feelings with you. For example, when your teen is having a bad day, instead of asking, “What happened?” try,
“I understand today may not have been easy, would you like to talk about it?”
This type of response may give your teenager the much needed emotional support and acknowledgement that they are yearning for in the moment.
Don’t Take Their Anger Personally
This one is difficult, but try not to tangle your emotions with your teenager’s big emotions. You are only human, and being at war with your angry teen is not easy. However, reacting to your teenager’s anger can be dangerous because it can move the focus away from what is really bothering your teen. Your teen may try to deflect or avoid talking about what is angering them by striking up an argument with you that has nothing to do with what you were originally talking about. It is important that you stay calm, take a few breaths and redirect the conversation back to what really is bothering your teen. For example, you may be discussing your teen’s low grades and your teen suddenly yells at you, “Why do you care about my grades now? It’s not like you ever have actually cared about me!” Thus, attempting to draw you into a whole different discussion in order to get you to stop talking about why they are failing AP Chem. Here is when you take a breath, remind your teen you love them and bring the conversation back to collaborating on how to improve their low grades. By doing this you just might avoid another argument with your teen and also show your teen how much you genuinely care about them.
Your teenager’s anger is not a reflection of your parenting skills, you have not failed at raising a good kid. Try and remember the challenges you faced as a teenager and what would’ve made it easier to overcome those emotional challenges. Your teen is doing the best they can with what they know, and they need your help to navigate this time in their life.
Remember, You’re The Model
Your teenager is going through a difficult period in their life and trying to navigate it can be stressful and irritating. Some of the factors that can contribute to this stress are friendships, homework, relationships with siblings, developing interests and exploring their identity. Your teen learns how to be in the world by watching you. Your actions will speak louder than your words. If you can model appropriate and positive ways to navigate stressful situations and emotions, your teenager is more likely to develop coping skills to better manage their own anger and grow into a healthy and confident adult.