Anger Is A Normal Emotion, But…
Learning how to effectively manage emotions can be a real challenge for teenagers, especially those with ADHD. With the ever-changing and growing pressures in life, teenagers are often challenged to find ways to effectively channel their emotions. Unfortunately, bottled up feelings, plus stress and pressure can explode in anger.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss why it might be more difficult for ADHD teenagers to handle their emotions and stress, what you can do in the face of teenage anger as well as lots of tips to proactively lessen your teens angry outbursts. We’ll also touch on how you as their parent can be a positive force as they learn how manage their negative feelings in a constructive way.
Yes, it is possible!! Teens can learn to gain more control of their emotions and create a more positive attitude with their friends and family.
I am the mother of two teenagers with ADHD who can be explosive. This post is written with respect and empathy to angry teenagers and their parents. This can be hard – very hard. Different techniques work for different kids and even at different stages of their life. I’ve tried most of what I write about and still use many of these ideas on a weekly, if not daily basis. Reach out on Instagram if you’d like to chat!
What does Teenage Anger Look Like?
If you have an angry, often explosive teenager in your house, one or more of the following may be happening:
- Displays of angry feelings leading to outbursts that involve yelling and swearing
- Damaging property, like throwing or breaking objects
- Disobeying house rules, skipping school, or refusal to participate in normal family activities
- Controlling and/or anti-social behaviors
- Intense sarcasm or prejudicial behavior
Understanding Anger in Teenagers
As our kids grow into teenagers, they’ll be experiencing a whole lot of new things….new responsibilities, lots of changes in their bodies, as well as the intense need to be more independent and break away from their parents.
Now, combine that with the onslaught of information and pressures from social media and your teen’s tenuous, evolving peer group, harder school work, part time jobs and…you see where this is going.
No one would argue that being a teenager these days is HARD.
Yes, this is a normal stage that we all have gone thru. Angry feelings, hormonal changes, and mood swings can be normal. But they can also be too much for a lot of kids to handle – and could lead to bigger feelings of anger or aggression.
In fact, your teenager may resemble a toddler...and for good reason. In the same way that toddlers are growing and changing quickly, teens are going thru another huge phase of growth. Their prefrontal cortex is not developed yet and so their thinking logical brain is not able to step in and stop the rush of emotions and anger.
Anger is a tricky thing because very often it’s fueled by other emotions. Anger, unfortunately, is a more acceptable emotion to exhibit over hurt or embarrassment or depression. So, it’s important to learn how to dig under the anger to see what other emotions may be causing the anger – more on that below!
How Can ADHD exacerbate anger?
ADHD is a developmental disease, one that can have kids lagging behind their peers in social and emotional maturity by as much as 30%. When kids have delays in their social emotional skills, they can have a hard time processing feelings and social predicaments. Your 16 year old, could be trying to deal with high school with the maturity of a 12 year old brain.
These lagging skills can cause emotional dysregulation, experiencing feelings and emotions more intensely than their peers. Pair that with a low frustration tolerance and often being very misunderstood by society in general, we can understand why these bottled up feelings can manifest themselves into angry behaviors.
Our ADHD kids are impulsive and commonly lag behind with their problem solving skills. This makes them more likely to communicate that anger immediately and in not so socially acceptable ways.
Many kids with ADHD are also dealing with mood disorders, like anxiety or depression. These co-morbid disorders can magnify feelings of anger and upset and lead to hard to control anger.
It’s so important for kids and teens with ADHD to learn to become aware of their triggers, manage their anger, and even prevent the anger from bubbling up in the first place.
Anger in Boys vs. Girls
While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to displays of anger, boys and girls usually differ in their presentation of their intense upset.
Often, gender biases exist that lead boys to more acceptably exhibit anger, while girls are told it’s “not nice” and can learn to stuff the feelings or express it as angry hurtful gossip. Girls also tend to stay angry for longer, and internalize their angry feelings. Boys tend to be more impulsive and externalize their anger.
As a parent of a teenager, it’s important to help teach your teen the skills they need to express their emotions in a healthy way. Not only does their anger make family life extremely difficult, but their untreated anger can lead to more serious issues down the road, like substance abuse and serious mental health issues, or physical violence.
Management Techniques in the Face of Anger
One of the hardest things as a parent is witnessing the angry outbursts of your ADHD teenager. It can be very hard to know what to do in the moment. One of the most important things to remember is in that moment of anger, there is no reasoning with your teen, you’ll have to save that for later.
Naturally, your kids’ anger can trigger you and stir up intense emotions in you, as well. We have some techniques to help you stay calm further down in the article. Remember, there is a lot you can do as a parent to help your child stay calm.
But first, let’s learn how to deescalate your teen’s anger as quickly as possible.
Make sure everyone is safe
The first step is to make sure all family members are safe. Separate younger siblings in another area or ask your teen to step out of the room or outside. If angry outbursts have become common occurrences, siblings have probably learned to just stay away at the first signs of anger.
Keep all additional stimuli to a minimum. Be a quiet presence for your teen. Minimize talking – A simple, “I am here if you need me, but take some time to cool down,” is great.
Once you know everyone in the house is safe, take a few minutes to process your own emotions. This is not a good time to talk to your teen. Let everyone cool down, most importantly yourself.
regulate your own emotions
One of the best things you can do for your angry teen is to regulate your own emotions. All humans have mirror neurons, which fire in the brain when you do something and also, when someone else near you does something. Wild, right? So your soothing vibes will help to fire these neurons in your child’s brain and help them calm down.
Your ability to co-regulate in the face of up your teens angry outbursts will also model healthy coping skills. Find opportunities to show your kids how to handle anger in the real world. Let your kids see you handling a surly waiter or customer service person with grace and humanity.
But, you will mess up. We are all human. Showing healthy emotion is definitely a skill worth learning and continuously working on until you get it right, most of the time.
Awesome parenting resource: Brain Body Parenting, by Mona Delahooke is a great book for learning how to coregulate with your child.
Let your child find a safe space to calm
Having a safe place where your child can calm down is imperative. Talk about a few options when you are not in a heated moment.
Your child will know what will work for them. Some kids like small spaces, like a closet with some pillows on the floor. Perhaps their bedroom is a comforting space. Sometimes, kids still like to be close to you, but on a big comfy bean bag, the sofa in the next room, etc.
It’s important that they choose the space and that they go willingly. This is not a “naughty corner” where they are sent away from you. Time-outs can make things worse for an anxious child, even in their teens. It can actually escalate behaviors.
Give the place a name, like Peace Corner, or Serenity Sac, Quiet Space. In the heat of the moment a quiet, “I bet your calm space would help.” suggestion might help. “Let me know if you need my help,” could be added if you know your teen would appreciate it.
If your angry teenager does not want to budge, you can! Exit the room, go to the bathroom, walk around the house. Both of you can benefit from the space
Make a plan to talk later
As soon as everyone is calm – this can be 20 minutes later or even, the next day – make a plan to talk about the upset. Making time to have a conversation, without all the upset feelings, will help to dig under the big emotions and see if you can’t start solving the problem
There is always something under the behavior, always. It can be tricky to find out what is going on. But there are lots of things you can try to get to the root of your teen’s angry outbursts
Ross Greene’s website is a great resource with all sorts of video’s showing you exactly how to have a conversation. Also, Adele Faber’s book, How to Talk So Teens Will Listen, has some helpful scripts for parents.
Investigate What’s Under Your Teen’s Anger
It’s important to dig under the behavior to see what is causing all this upset. Yes, anger management techniques are vital to learn, but the best management technique is to solve what is causing the anger in the first place. Angry behavior can become a habit, if not investigated and worked on.
enlist the help of a therapist or school social worker
Finding a therapist or social worker you can trust can be extremely helpful. An unbiased viewpoint will, undoubtedly, shed light on a problem in a new way. Often teens feel embarrassed by their big feelings and can open up to someone else besides their parents. But, because therapists and social workers have worked with lots of different teens, they have so many ideas for managing anger.
It may take some time to build a relationship with a therapist, but keep at it. They will become one of your family’s biggest allies in helping you dig underneath the behavior and find the right anger management techniques.
Ask for recommendations from friends or your child’s school counselor to find a therapist that you and your child can connect with.
Use the 5 finger method
Sometimes your kid won’t talk about what’s bothering them or making them angry. And it’s not because they don’t want to. Many teens have a hard time identifying their specific emotions. Ross Greene’s 5 finger method is a way to get some answers without your kid having to say a word.
Parents offer suggestions to see what could be under that angry behavior and kids respond by holding up 1 to 5 fingers. 1 finger stands for no, 5 fingers for yes, and 2 thru 4 fingers for somewhere in between. This takes some practice on both sides, but it can yield some great information.
Questions like: ” Are you tired.?”, “Are upset at your friend?”, “Do you have a lot of homework?”, can yield some good information. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at targeting questions to your kid. Trust me, even teens can be successful with this….just don’t react if they hold up their middle finger.
Learn to use “I statements” to express emotions
Being able to verbalize emotions can be very difficult. Unfortunately, especially for boys, anger is a more “acceptable” emotion than, say, worry or being scared. Anger is often a secondary emotion, one arising after someone feels another emotion like hurt, embarrassment, or overwhelm.
It can be frustrating to have the right words to express feelings and emotions. Having a feelings chart, even for teens, can be helpful so they can learn more targeted language to express how they are feeling.
Try putting one up in a very visible place in your home. use one yourself when you are trying to get your point across or describe how you are feeling. This chart is fun and inexpensive and there is a simpler version, here.
You can teach them to use “I” statements when expressing how they feel, like
- “I feel _________ because___________ .”
- “I need__________because I feel_______________”
- “When___________I feel_________________”
Using I statements is a skill to teach your teenagers so they can express the emotions they are feeling. It can be hard to take ownership of their feelings and teens often like to blame others for their upset. “iI’s all your fault this happened!!” may sound familiar.
You can learn a lot about your kid by paying attention to their triggers and being observant. It may be helpful to keep a journal so you can start to see patterns or similar situations that trigger their anger.
Does your kid always have the same complaint, “You always bug me about homework!”, “I just want to play with my friends online!”, “I’m tired from work, leave me alone!”. Are there certain situations or times of the day that bring about big emotions? Which triggers happen the most?
Use this information to better help you assist your teenager in handling their big feelings and most frequent triggers.
Anger Management Techniques for Teenagers
The best scenario is when you can work to avoid or lessen your teenagers angry episodes altogether. Eliminating all episodes is probably impossible – anger is a normal emotion to experience. But these suggestions will help you quell those angry outbursts and teach your teens to eventually learn how to manage their anger on their own.
Plan for your teenagers triggers
Once you are aware of your teens triggers, you can plan for them a bit. Now I am not saying to avoid difficult situations or get your teens out of triggering events. Part of growing up is learning how to do hard things. But you can help your teen learn how to plan for triggering events by previewing them to see what they can change or take control of.
For instance, you can give them more time to get used to the venue at a loud birthday party by arriving early or letting them wear their noise cancelling ear buds.. Let them bring a friend along to a triggering family event. Plan for a fun, relaxing Sunday night if they get nervous about the start of the school week. Get a tutor to work thru difficult subjects or tests.
Talking through an event before it happens can help your teen process their emotions and feel more in control. They may be able to take steps to help themselves when they think about a triggering event before hand. Have weekly family meetings to talk thru and preview the upcoming week. You’ll be able to get ahead of a triggering situation and help your kid do some problem solving.
Learn to use Declarative Language
This is one of my favorites, that I wish I had learned about sooner than I did!
Neurodiverse kids can respond differently to language and conversation. Simple questions about homework or feelings or chores may make our kids overwhelmed, causing them to shut down and stop talking.
Simple demands or questions of daily life like, “Get dressed”, “Do your homework”, “What’s the matter?” or “Empty the dishwasher.” can cause big emotions, even explosions, quickly upsetting the entire household.
Learning to use declarative language will create a simple shift in how you talk to your kids that guide them to learn, gain awareness, & feel more confident. Instead of asking questions or barking out demands, declarative language shows a way to communicate through observations and thoughtful statements.
I know the concept seems very abstract, so let’s look at some great examples. (This book is amazing and filled with scripts to put into your parenting toolbox and try today!)
I will start with the example that has worked magic for my teens. “Take out the garbage,” is a demand that leaves the door wide open for a “No!” or “Later, mom”. A declarative statement like, “ I see two garbage bags by the back door.” enables my kids to make the decision for themselves and has worked every time.
Here’s another one I use frequently. Instead of asking “Did you feed the cats, yet?” I observed, ” The cat’s look hungry.” I was answered with a nice, “Oh I fed them already, mom” instead of a “That’s not my job.” or “Yes, mom!!”
Taking criticism can be really challenging – even when it’s as minor as helping with homework. Instead of “ Number 2 is wrong,” say “ It might be a good idea to check number 2”.
Questions can induce opposition or defiance. Kids move into fight or flight just by our words. When you use declarative language there are no demands, little reason to be defiant, but lots of opportunities for our kids to solve problems and feel empowered.
Teach your teenager how to relax
There are many positive ways teens can learn to relax their body. The problem is getting them to try them! There is no forcing anything on a teen and the last thing you want to do is nag or fight with them to practice a calming activity.
Modeling the behavior and having your teens see the results on you (less yelling, more calm!) can go a long way in getting them to try something. Consider one or more of the following to help your teenager quell their anger:
- Get regular exercise. We all know exercise is good for the body, but is also reduces stress and anxiety.
- Spend time outside, A recent study found that spending just 2 hours a week in nature can lower stress.
- Use a relaxation app. This may be the easiest because teens are always on their phones. Headspace and Smiling Mind are two great ones to try.
- Practice yoga or a martial art.
- Spend time doing an enjoyable hobby, like model building, knitting, or sketching.
If your teenager is open to suggestions, maybe they’d like to start something new. Or wrangle a friend who’d provide some accountability for them.
Learn to ask for help
This can be tricky. Teenage anger often arises because they don’t know how to get help or that help actually exists. They can feel too socially vulnerable or embarrassed to admit that they need help.
Your teen may be put in situations where they have to act like an adult (making appointments, applying for jobs) but are unsure of what to do. School work can be difficult and their peers may look like they are breezing thru it. This can cause them to feel all sorts of emotions that come out as anger.
Being able to ask for help is a great skill to take with them into adulthood. The more practice they have with this the better. Again, modeling asking for help is a great teacher. Normalize asking for help in your house. Give them a few options of all the people who can help – tutors, coaches, websites, family members, teachers, and then help them write the email or figure out exactly what to say.
When your angry teen is not compliant
Even with the best of intentions and all the right actions, parents might still be facing a very angry teenager.
The only person you can change is yourself. Boy do our teens teach us this!! So think about what you can do to lessen the tension in the household.
Work on your own parenting. Using declarative language as mentioned above is a great start, because the learning and taking action is all for you.
Seek outside help or additional outside help. Reach out for help from: A family therapist, therapist just for mom and/or dad., school social worker, favorite teacher, trusted adult, tutor, executive function coach.
Showing up as an emotionally healthy parent, ready to support your child will go a long way.
A final word on Anger Management Techniques
Anger management techniques can be incredibly useful for teens struggling to keep their emotions in check.
Taking care of yourself as a parent, and learning how to regulate your own emotions in a healthy way will go a long way in having your kids do the same.
But, finding some anger management techniques that work for your teenagers is imperative. Every kid and every family is different, so finding what works for you and your teenager is the key. Having the ability to identify their triggers, express their feelings constructively, and use physical outlets to help manage their emotions can help teens create a better balance in their life.
For teens needing additional help, seeking professional assistance for them and as a family, can provide them with the guidance and support they need.
Resources for more learning about anger
Books for Parents
The Explosive Child by Ross Greene
Brain-Body Parenting, by Mona Delahooke
Listen, by Patty Wipfler and Toscha Shor
How to Be the Parent You Always Wanted to Be, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The Declarative Language Handbook, by Linda Murphy
Anger Management Books for Teenagers
Super Powered by Renee Jain and Dr. Shefali Tsabary
Don’t Tell Me to Relax, by Sophie Riegel
Zero to 60: A Teen’s Guide to Manage Frustration, Anger, and Everyday Irritations, M. Tompkins