Written by Susan H. Christiansen
This is part 2 of a series on helping teens handle feelings of anger. Click here to read Part 1.
Table of Contents
Expressing Angry Words
Teen self-awareness of angry feelings isn’t enough to stop angry outbursts. Practicing the steps in the ABC Model for Anger Management (discussed below) will provide a method for easing angry feelings. Teens can learn to recognize when they are frustrated and stop the cycle before those feelings develop into anger.
Angry outbursts, striking out, and other untoward expressions of anger are sometimes products of frustration and reactionary. While it is okay to be angry and know why you are mad, it is not okay to lash out.
If you struggle with anger, you are not alone and neither is your teen. The good news is that people can change and anger isn’t always bad. With training, your teen can cope with feelings in a healthy way.
A Parent’s Example of Angry Behavior
Even the best of parents don’t behave perfectly all the time. Research studies have documented how behavior patterns, like anger and aggression, get passed down to the next generation. Through careful conscious decisions, parents can change their family pattern of behavior.
If your child has difficulty expressing anger, are you modeling screaming, throwing tantrums, or threatening behavior? Were you raised in a home where parents behaved that way?
If you were, it’s familiar territory to treat your kids the same way you were raised when you are stressed. It is also unreasonable to expect your children to behave better than you do.
On the bright side, you’re here. That means you are already trying to be a better parent for your kid. As you learn better coping skills, model them for your child, even if you’re not very good at them.
Don’t be ashamed to tell your child that you also struggle with feelings of anger and frustration. Let your child know that you are learning so you can be a better example.
Dr. Laura Markham, PhD, from Psychology Today, suggests that children need to know that their parents aren’t perfect. If they think their parents are perfect, they will just feel worse about their own shortcomings. She recommends quickly coming clean:
We Are Not Our Thoughts
Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, PhD, teaches:
Anger builds in stages. By understanding the progression of your anger, you can learn to quickly identify when you are becoming frustrated and head it off before anger takes control.
Our actions stem from our thoughts. Researchers from Queen’s College in Canada estimate that the average human has about 6,200 thoughts per day. We can’t control all of the thoughts that come into our minds but we can control whether we act on them. Some of the thoughts are useful and some are not. Some thoughts are important, some are destructive, some are happy, and some are sad.
Teach your teen that our thoughts are separate from us. Just because they get irritated and want to punch someone doesn’t mean they have to act on that thought. We do not have to say the thoughts that come into our minds. Teach your teen to observe their thoughts and choose which ones to act on.
Teens Can Put Themselves In Time-out
Angry people often act impulsively and may say and do things they regret. Part of the reason why is that our thoughts can become distorted. When we are feeling a strong emotion, that emotion can cause us to see and think differently.
We may start to blame others for our behavior with words like, “You made me late!” We can start to see things in black and white or magnify the meaning of an event by saying something like, “My life is ruined!” (magnification), or saying someone is a horrible, terrible person (labeling). We can say things like, “This always happens to me!” (overgeneralizing) or “You are purposely trying to get me in trouble!” (jumping to conclusions).
Whatever the case, children are responsible for their behavior, especially by the time they hit their teens.
Sometimes, an angry outburst is simply an easy way to vent for teens who don’t know how to express their feelings. Disagreeing with someone, a family rule, or an incident is typical when people live together. However, no one should be afraid of another person’s angry behavior.
Physical acts of aggression associated with anger include raising a clenched fist, pointing fingers to the face, kicking things, throwing things, breaking things, hitting walls, and slamming doors.
Before the situation with your teen spirals out of control, set family rules for displaying anger. Each family member needs to know what acceptable behavior is and what it isn’t. Based on her research, Dr. Jennifer S. Lerner, a Harvard psychologist, said:
Setting consequences for specific actions can be a great incentive to keep a teen from acting out. It also offers them the realization that for each action, there are consequences.
Positive Attributes of Anger
Not all aspects of anger are negative. Anger is also part of our body’s fight-or-flight response. Anger is appropriate in certain situations that need emotion to drive action like the following:
- social injustices
- alarm system
- gathers attention
- enjoyment during movies or stories when good triumphs over evil
Choosing Whether to Act on Angry Feelings and Thoughts
It’s essential for teens to learn how to manage teen anger. Unchecked angry feelings can lead to reckless behavior, damaged relationships, and crushed dreams. Anger affects parent-child interactions, sibling relationships, friends, school interaction, work evaluations, and even driving behavior.
In our next two sections, we address self-management and the ABC Model for handling anger.
NOTE: If your teen experiences anger infrequently, then the strategies below should be helpful. If your teen is frequently angry, holds grudges, or threatens psychological, emotional, or physical harm, please seek the help of a therapist.
Self-management is a term used to gather all the ways we make decisions and take care of ourselves under one umbrella. Choosing to take a time-out, as mentioned above, falls under self-management. Learning about your strengths and weaknesses is also under self-management. Making choices that will benefit you now and in the future is part of self-management. Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, PhD, suggests keeping an anger log:
Here are some self-management strategies you might choose when you are starting to have angry feelings:
- express emotions in clear, calm sentences (suppressing emotions often leads to outbursts)
- recognize when a situation is temporary, such as waiting in line and not worth getting angry over
- recognize that family members will remember your words and behavior and see you every day; it’s best to pause before an outburst
- distract yourself for a few minutes with another enjoyable activity
- seek social support by talking about the problem with a friend
- take a drink of water
- go outside for a brief walk or to shoot some hoops
- take a few slow deep breaths
- sit in the dark for a few minutes
- listen to calming music
- learn to state your position respectfully while standing up for yourself in a nonconfrontational way
- sometimes it’s best to choose to escape for a time
It’s helpful to look beyond the moment to determine whether what your teen is angry about will matter tomorrow.
ABC Model for Anger Management
The “ABC Model for Anger Management” was developed by Dr. Albert Ellis. A “D” was added later. This framework is a tool for helping people challenge what they are thinking about. It helps people notice when they are distorting their thoughts. By helping people see more clearly and accurately, better decisions can be made. The diagram below from Positive Psychology shows this model in action:
A: Activating Event (Adversity). This is the triggering event. Where were you and what were you doing when you started to feel angry? Was it something inside of you or something outside in your environment?
B: Beliefs About the Event. What do you tell yourself about the event? What do you think should have happened? Are your thoughts rational (thought out and logical) or irrational (usually based on emotions and aren’t logical)?
C: Consequences. What happens as a result of A and B, above? Did something happen in your environment? Did you notice a change in your body? Did you feel any other emotions besides anger such as fear?
D: Dispute. The next step is to “check the facts.” If someone else were viewing the situation, what would they see and think? Did someone decide to hurt you on purpose? Did you get your school backpack ready the night before? Challenging your thoughts can often help you see the irrational ones.
After you experience an angry feeling or incident, briefly think about what happened. Could you have done something differently? Could you set your environment up so the problem doesn’t happen again?
Dartmouth University has a simple, informative guide on understanding stress and adversity using the ABC Model you might find helpful:
Pausing for a few seconds or minutes before you respond to a situation will help you make a better decision. Using these strategies can save your friendships, your family relationships, your employment, and even your life.
The goals of managing anger are 1) to pause long enough for your mind to question whether you are really seeing what is happening and then 2) deciding whether to act now or later.
Along with the strategies above, joining an anger management group can also help with the challenge. The groups offer your teen the opportunity to connect with peers having the same issue and counselors if they need to speak in private about how they feel.
This article is part of a series on teen anger. Click “Helping Teens Learn How to Handle Angry Feelings (Part 1)” for the previous article.