Anger. It’s something that everyone has to deal with, but it can be particularly troublesome during the teen years. Adolescents are coping with hormonal surges, drama with their peers, pressure to succeed in school, and the instinctual drive to discover who they are apart from their parents. All of this can lead to moodiness, and when it’s anger that’s swelling, it can be hard for them to handle it. One way you can help your teenager who is struggling with anger is to teach them some anger management techniques that will serve them well not only now but also as they go through adulthood. Read on for some anger management techniques that you can teach your teen.
Identify Anger Triggers and the First Signs of Anger
While it might seem to your teen that anger just comes out of nowhere, most of us do have some anger triggers and early signals that we’re starting to get overwhelmed and annoyed. If your teen is struggling with anger, ask him or her to keep a list of times that they get angry. See if you can help them narrow down their triggers.
For example, are they most angry before dinner, when everyone in the family is trying to get food on the table and eliminate distractions such as smartphones and tablets? Maybe they’re angry in the morning when you go in to wake them up. Or perhaps it’s a particular teacher or coach at school who makes them the angriest. Just knowing what situations are stress-provoking can help your teen plan for those feelings.
As for the physical signs of anger, ask your teen to pay attention to what his or her body is doing. If they find themselves clenching their fists, grinding their teeth, or biting their thumbnails, this might be an indication that anger is about to erupt. That’s the time that they need to remove themselves, either mentally or physically (or both), from the situation.
Count to Ten and Breathe
Since it can be hard to physically leave a situation that makes us angry, knowing how to mentally diffuse angry feelings can be a very helpful anger management technique. For example, if your teen’s math teacher annoys your child and they start to feel angry, they can put into practice the old advice to count to ten and take some breaths. This can amount to enough of a distraction that they can think clearly and react appropriately.
Exercise Anger Away
Exercise has been shown to relieve stress and anxiety, and if you’ve ever hit the gym after a tough day at work, you know that it can melt anger away, too. Encourage your teen to do something physical when they feel anger surging through their body. For example, they could go for a run around the block, lift some weights in the basement or rec room, or rearrange the furniture in their bedroom. A regular program of exercise can also help them keep their anger and overreactions in check; a physically tired teen is less likely to be teeming with potentially destructive energy.
Write Down Strong Feelings
Journaling can be used as an anger management technique by writing out angry feelings. Your teen can pour his or her frustrations into a journal that no one will read. This could be a physical journal or a digital one; pounding out their feelings into a Word document can be just as satisfying to computer-savvy teens as scribbling them down in a notebook. Afterward, they can choose to save it to read later or they can tear it up (or hit “delete”).
One caveat: While you might encourage your teen to write down their feelings, let them know that they should not send their thoughts as an email or in any other way to the person who has wronged them, at least not until they have had time to process what has made them angry and cool off. It’s very easy to type off an angry email and hit “send” before really thinking it through, so strongly discourage your teen from doing something like this.
Take Up Meditation or Yoga
Learning how to relax by using techniques including meditation and yoga can give your teen a more laid-back outlook on stressful situations. These practices teach mindfulness; being aware of your surroundings and accepting that they won’t always get their way or be happy with whatever is going on is one way to let the waves of anger just ebb and flow without becoming aggressive or acting out in undesirable ways. Encourage your teen to look into meditation or yoga; they could also try other types of relaxation techniques such as visual imagery or progressive muscle relaxation.
Learn to Communicate Better
Knowing how to express feelings appropriately will help your teen deal with anger in a productive way. Statements like, “you always,” or “you never,” are easy to rely on when someone is angry, but they just alienate the other person and can spark even more anger. Teach your teen how to use fair statements, such as, “When you ______, I feel ______.”
Your teen should also learn how to advocate for him- or herself. For example, if your teen thinks that a teacher is grading him or her unfairly, they should learn how to approach the situation without becoming defensive (or offensive!). Your child should also know that it’s perfectly okay to say, “I do not want you to speak to me like that,” if someone else is using abusive or foul language. They can also say, “I am feeling angry now and would like to postpone this discussion until later.” Using these strategies can dissolve anger and allow your teen to get away from a situation before they begin to lose their cool.
If your teen is having a hard time controlling his or her anger or if they are becoming physically or verbally abusive in their anger, then it’s time to seek help. Ask their primary care physician for a referral to the appropriate mental health specialist; this person can help them learn coping mechanisms that will allow them to control their anger. Don’t let this situation go unaddressed; it’s always better to nip anger management problems in the bud well before adulthood.