I could see his anger rising as his stance widened and his face started to flush. We were in the kitchen, and I had just told my 13-year-old son that, because of his poor attitude and mouthy behavior that day, he wouldn’t be able to participate in an activity with his friends that evening. His eyes glaring, he stared at me in disbelief as I stood and firmly held my ground. As he took in my words, I caught a glimpse of the days when he’d stand before me in footie pajamas completely melting down in one of his daily toddler tantrums. He stomped off, his now teenage frame thundering up the stairs and shaking the pictures on the wall.
I sighed in frustration as I heard his door slam.
What made this argument different, though, is that, after the door slam, I heard a sound I’d never heard emanating from his room before. It took me a minute to place what I was hearing, and as I ran up the stairs and opened his door, I found him angrily kicking his bed frame. I stared at him in openmouthed shock, and as he came to an abrupt stop, he burst into angry frustrated tears. I gently went over to him and collected him in my arms, much in the same way I did when his toddler tantrums got the best of him. We sat on the bed, and when I kissed his head, he said, “I just get so angry sometimes, Mom. It’s like I have all these feelings jumbled inside, and I don’t know what to do with them.”
While my first reaction was abject horror that my son decided to physically lash out in anger, I slowly realized that, yet again, I was in a teenage teachable moment. When he was small and losing his mind in the grocery store aisle because I wouldn’t buy him gummy snacks, I had to teach him how to manage his anger, how to gather his emotions, and how to appropriately express what he was feeling. As we sat in his room, cluttered with Legos long forgotten and clothes everywhere but his drawers, I knew that I had work to do, that I had to, yet again, help him find an outlet for his teenage hormones and frustrations.
In the months since that incident, I’ve learned few helpful tips when it comes to addressing anger in your teen.
1. Listen, Listen, Listen. And Then Listen Some More.
Teens want to be heard, even if they look like stubborn toddlers covered in acne. What may seem minor to you is a big deal in their world, and dismissing their hurt and anger only serves to make the situation worse. Are you saying no to their request because it’s a power struggle, or are you setting boundaries to keep them safe? Sometimes, we have to take ourselves out of our need to be in control and really listen to what our teen is conveying. Taking the time to absorb their words will go a long way in helping to ease the tensions between you.
2. Teach your teen to take five.
Teens are dealing with grown-up emotions that are new to them and feelings they often can’t explain in the heat of the moment. And of course, their poor behavior sets off feelings and emotions in your head that often lead to poor communication. Establishing a “Take Five” option with your teen is a healthy way for both of you to walk away from an argument before it escalates into a destructive pattern. Tell your teen that if you are arguing, you will simply say, “Let’s take five,” and decide on a location in your home where your teen can quietly collect their thoughts. Not only will it give them a moment or two to calm down, it will also give you a breather. Toddlers aren’t the only ones who need a time out.
3. Help your teen find a healthy outlet for their anger.
When I’m so angry I could spit, I lace up my shoes and run the anger out of my veins, and I almost always come home clear-headed. Encourage your teen to find a sport or healthy activity he can rely on when he is hurting or angry. Shooting hoops, taking the family pet for a walk, or kicking a soccer ball can be a great outlet for a teen who is feeling frustrated. Hopefully, in doing so, they’ll come home refreshed and ready to discuss the situation calmly.
4. There’s no shame in calling for backup.
My son and I are very similar in personality and our conflict resolution strategies are eerily similar. Because of this, we often clash when we have a dispute. My husband is more even tempered and often able to remain calm in stressful situations. There are times that I have backed away and let my husband handle our teen’s angry outbursts. There’s no shame in telling your partner that you need a break and recognizing that you might not be the best person to help walk your teen through their frustration in that moment.
When my son would throw a temper tantrum as a toddler, it felt like I would never, ever survive. Lo and behold, one day, he no longer threw himself on the floor when he didn’t get his way. Your teen is asserting their independence when they’re wailing about not being allowed to play video games or having to skip the football game because of a poor grade. And though it may seem that you’ll never survive their foot stomping, eye-rolling, and sharp tongue, they’ll be off to college, and you’ll miss their presence in the house. You won’t miss the eye-rolling, but you will miss the opportunity to communicate with them, so take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’ll survive the teen years. Barely, but you’ll survive.