We talked last week about anger management in some small detail and modelling good anger management for your teen, this is hugely important if you wish your teen to be able to manage not just anger but all their emotions. I’ll talk today about firstly understanding how the teen’s brain is different from the adult brain and why this is important to understand so you can help them, then I’ll give you some practical tips on how to help your teens with anger.
Understand how your Teen’s brain works in order to help them with their emotions and responses.
Teens differ from adults in their ability to read and understand emotions in the faces of others. Adults use the prefrontal cortex to read emotional cues, but teenagers rely on the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions. In research, teens often misread facial expressions; when shown pictures of adult faces expressing different emotions, teens most often interpreted them as being angry. Source: ACT for Youth. Knowing this difference gives us as adults the opportunity to help the teen in our care, not to take what they say and do too much to heart, keep hold of our sense of humour and helps us guide them when they seem so lost. Remember it’s your teen’s job to move away from you and grow into the adult they need to become.
How can you help?
- Try to understand what’s behind the anger. So what is going with your teen? Are they depressed, sad, feeling inadequate, do they just need someone to listen to them, are you going through a divorce or separation? Finding the reason behind what is going on is a vital step in helping them.
- Understand the sheer volume of pressure your teen may be under. Teens may be overwhelmed by the pressure of study, work, friendships, responsibility, and teenage hormone surges. As we discussed last week teen’s thoughts and emotions are zipping all over the place with them feeling okay one moment and horrible the next. Remember I said don’t take it personally when faced with this. One way to find out what is going on is to clue into their friends, make your home inviting for them to come and hang out, then just listen to what is being talked about. Actively listening is so important but so is becoming part of the furniture when they talk, so don’t try to be cool and hang out but rather just listen to their conversations.
- Ask your teen about areas of conflict. Simply ask them about what is going on in schools, with activities and their friends, again not in a confrontational way but in a non-judgemental fashion (see last week’s blog for more on this). Find out what they are struggling with and ask if there is any way you can help. Think back to what it was like for you as a teen if you have forgotten just remember how awkward you may have felt at that age, the desire to be seen as cool, intelligent, successful, part of the gang or attractive. This list is endless and anyone being opened up to being singled out can be become one of their sources of conflict.
- Help teens to express anger appropriately and how to manage angry feelings. No emotion is negative it’s how we respond while feeling it is what is important. make sure you tell your teen that it is Ok to be angry, but not to harm people or property. Explain (and I’d say also model) ways in which they can express this anger more appropriately such as punching a punch-bag or pillow, going to the gym or doing some vigorous exercise. It can also be retreating to their room and listening to music, or a relaxation CD. It could be saying a mantra or slogan that will help them calm down such as ‘keep calm’, ‘I can stay in control’ or ‘I can handle it’. Or they might wish to use a visualization in which they imagine pushing a pause button on a remote control or stop button. It is also important that teenagers have somewhere private to go to when they feel angry not only to express their anger or calm down but also they may feel embarrassed afterwards or cry and do not want to be seen in this emotional state. So if they share a room it might need some planning on your behalf.some time alone.
- Help your teen to find healthy ways to relieve anger. Get them expressing their anger or relieving anger by encouraging exercise – running, biking, climbing or team sports are particularly effective, art, dancing, music played loudly and writing.
- Give your teen space to retreat. Make sure you allow your teen time and space to express their anger and retreat until it is safe and they have cooled off. Don’t follow them or demand an apology at this time. You can always talk when everyone is calmer. Everything will escalate or be prolonged if you try to deal with this while everyone is angry or hurt.
- Be aware of anger warning signs and triggers. Help your teen and yourself to identify their trigger. Is there a physical symptom beforehand such as a headache? Is there a particular subject in school or sport that triggers it? Do they start pacing beforehand? When you and they can start to see the warning signs, then they can become more aware of their triggers and start to look for ways in which to cool of before anger takes its full effect.
- Be aware of other influences, not just home life. This isn’t just about your influence any longer on your child but also their peers and outside sources of influence that comes into their life. Parents can feel that the behaviour of their teen is a reflection of their (poor) parenting but so many factors are now playing an important influencing role so don’t take it personally. Get to know their friends and their families. Never be afraid to pick up the phone and check with their friend’s Mums/Dads on any and all arrangements being made. It’s also a great idea if you’re being nagged about buying a particular item or them being allowed to go somewhere to delay giving an answer and finding out if their current BFF is really getting the last piece of expensive technology or is going to x. You will usually find they are not and are using your child and you to blackmail their parents just like your teen is doing to you. Remeber what you did, you weren’t unique, most teens will try this at least once.
- Try to understand things from your teen’s perspective. It’s a teenagers job to break away from their parents and become independent adults. They also need to make mistakes, but we can’t protect them from that and using a told you so attitude, or rubbing in past mistakes will not help. In fact, they need to know that you are there for them to help them pick up the pieces. Note I said not pick up the pieces for them but help them do it. Allow them to apologise and make amends and them move on.
- Don’t give attention to bad behaviour – in fact, give attention to the good behaviour with acknowledgement and a thank you. It is always easier to ignore your teen when they do what you expect them to, and then nag and criticise when they don’t. But what we need to do is notice when they follow the rules, celebrate their achievements and all small successes. Just appreciating your teen and thanking them can be a reward in itself. When you first start doing this your teenager may feel awkward or say that you are patronising them. Please don’t stop –they will learn to accept it, and a stream of comments about what they are doing well will have a positive impact eventually.
- Ignore passive-aggressive behaviour. Yes, I know this can be hard to do but always pick the battles you want in order to win the war so to speak. If you ask your teen to tidy bedroom or to help out, and they do it, but moan constantly and mutter how they would rather be living somewhere else, ignore the comments and give them a polite thank you at the end. When they talk like this they are letting air out of the balloon and provided they don’t hurt people or property – let it pass. Remeber the emotions are flying all over the place, let it go and let them de-pressurize this way.
- Consider depression. Up to twenty percent of teenagers will experience teen depression before they become adults. Untreated depression can lead to trouble at school, in jobs, risky behaviours, sexual promiscuity, self-harm and suicide. So please know the signs of teen depression and seek your GP’s advice immediately, never wait.
- Give them a way out. It’s hard when tempers flare, you may issue an all-or-nothing ultimatum or threaten the teens in the heat of the moment. Remember you are the adult, allow the situation to calm down and then talk about what has happened. Look at consequences and admit your wrong if you are, apologise, you will be looked at with more respect when you are able to this with your teen then any bull-headed action in the heat of the moment.
- Keep trying. Yes, I know it gets hard at times, but believe me, one day you will look back with fond memories. You may feel you just want to throw the children out of the house at the earliest opportunity, but if it’s like this you need to talk to someone. We as parents need to persevere and hang in and continue to work with the teen. This is one sure-fire way to save the relationship. Yes, it is true that Teens often find their own parents the most embarrassing, difficult adults on the planet – do you remember thinking and feeling this?. Try to empathise with them, whilst keeping the perspective that you are trying to do your best for them, and love them regardless. But no parent should live with violence or continual threats of violence. Sometimes teens need to live away from home if they cannot keep from harming people or property. Yes, that is a harsh reality, a decision parents do not take lightly either.
- Keep your sense of humour. Remember don’t take it personally and I do know it’s hard and overwhelming when the teen tries to exert control over the household. But take a step back and learn to laugh at the sheer insanity of your teen’s behaviour. (Keep a diary, can help you let go of the stress and your emotions here – it could be worth thousands when you write your memoirs!) Make sure that you take time out for yourself and continue to find time to have a laugh with your friends too. Teach them to journal about their emotions and respect their privacy here. By showing them options you are modelling good habit too for the future.
- Show your love and caring. A little gesture of love can go a long way, so buying your teens favourite food, sitting on their bed when you wake them up and chatting to them, putting your arm around them or touching their arm, smiling when you see them, telling them about how you felt the day they were born or writing them a little note may help them to feel loved and cherished. It’s also good for them to hear the awful stories about you as a teen from their grandparents, it lets them know your human. When it comes to anger, prevention is better than cure, and everyone benefits from some warmth and closeness.
If you feel threatened by your teen
Everyone has a right to feel physically safe, so if your teen is violent towards you, seek help immediately, call a friend, relative, or the Garda (police) if necessary. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your child, but the safety of you and your family should always come first. As I said above it can be a harsh reality that some teens need to move out of the family home or need to go into psychiatric care, don’t start to stress about this as it only happens in a very small number of cases and often after a very lengthy process involving you, your child and a team of experts.