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Learning to Deal with Teen Anger

The teen years are notoriously tricky. Hormones are raging, boundaries are being tested, and adolescents are taking steps into adult privileges and responsibilities. A good amount of parent-child conflict is reasonable during the teen years. Anger is a typical, healthy emotional response to outside stressors. How do we help our teens feel anger without going overboard?

Maybe we should look at how we have raised our kids to think about anger. Growing up I was often told, “You’re not mad, you’re just hungry.” Or tired. Or…

As a mom, I totally get where that was coming from. Hangry has been around for a very long time!

Being raised that way meant I stopped recognizing anger in myself. I called my college boyfriend once while I was out for a run. He asked me what was wrong—I was confused—nothing was wrong. But then he said, “you always run when you’re mad. It’s what you do. You clean and you go for a run.” I realized, he wasn’t wrong. That is what I did, but I honestly didn’t recognize my anger. I felt the adrenaline from the emotion, but I couldn’t name it or look at it.

It is essential that we recognize when food or exercise can help our kids, but they also need to learn when they are just straight-up mad. We need to give them the right to feel and own their anger—and the tools to deal with it.

Anger lets us know that something is wrong. It helps us understand when our buttons are being pushed, our values are not respected, or someone is ignoring our boundaries.

More concerning, when people find a way to avoid feeling angry, they may get depressed or use drugs or alcohol to numb that feeling.

The starting point in dealing with angry feelings is to name the feeling. You can say to your child, “I can see why you’re angry,” without judgment. This helps kids to accept where they are and helps them to learn to recognize and name their feelings. To start them on the path to handling their emotions there are three things they need to learn.

Name the Emotion

One of the first steps to managing anger is recognizing it—and how it starts. What is the root of the emotion? For instance, when a friend shares a secret with someone else. Yes, you’re mad at the friend for doing that, but what are the other emotions that anger is masking? Hurt that she broke a trust; embarrassed that someone else knows, worried she might be laughed at or judged. So it’s more complicated than “just” anger. The emotion of anger involves thought, feeling, and action. Change any of these, and you can take control.

Understand that Anger is Normal

We tried to give our kids a vocabulary for their feelings and told them anger is ok, and in fact, it can be useful. It helps us; it tunes us into the fact that something isn’t right. I explain that when I feel angry, I may seem irritable, tense, and anxious, so that they can understand what anger actually looks like. If they can identify when I’m angry, they’re closer to identifying the feeling in themselves.

My children also ser my husband and I argue or yell sometimes. We always apologize, and try to help them to understand that although we feel angry and we are fighting, that’s ok. It may be how we try to solve a problem, or it may just be we are cranky with each other and need some space to calm down. Anger can feel scary for kids, and it’s important they learn that it doesn’t mean you love whomever any less.

Learn How to Express Anger Appropriately

Here’s where the do’s and don’ts come in. For us, hitting or hurting people or walls or toys is not ok. If our children have excess energy in their emotions, I suggested yelling into, hitting or biting a pillow. It helps to get that aggression out. Another option is learning mindfulness and slow deep breathing. Sometimes it’s necessary to just leave the situation—just a change of scenery like a moment outside will help to calm down.

It’s easy to get caught up when your teen is angry or sullen; it’s hard not to take on their emotions and ramp up the stress in the room. Try to remember that behaviors are a way of expressing a message. Their actions and moods are often masking something else that’s going on. The only way to know that is if they are able to identify it in themselves.

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