I regularly encounter families that are struggling to assist a pre-teen or teenage son with managing his anger. I have encountered it so often that I have made the focus of my practice working with adolescent males. The unfortunate thing about anger is that it often gets a bad rap. Yes, sometimes anger is expressed through violence, aggression, or harsh words. However, in other situations anger can be a powerful motivating force that moves your son to take action against an injustice. I have memories of being angry about a good friend being bullied on the play ground, this anger moved me to protect and stand up for this friend. Some boys are moved to anger when they see a friend that is hungry or struggling in school. My point is that not all anger is unhelpful, but when you find yourself not knowing what to do in the face of an angry son here are five things that might help.
Validate his feelings
Anger is a very powerful emotion. Many times anger is expressed on the outside when on the inside he is feeling sadness. Acknowledging your sons anger helps him to feel heard and can actually decrease the intensity of its expression. When you say, “you are really angry about this” it communicates to your son that you understand him therefore he can decrease the expression of the anger because you recognize it.
Listen without judgment
Validating feelings begins by listening and seeking to understand his perspective without judgment. The temptation is to correct misperceptions or misunderstandings however this is not helpful. Correcting perceptual mistakes only communicates that you don’t understand HIS perspective. When your son realizes that you “get it” from his perspective the anger will decrease and you become an ally in the problem solving process. When you are his ally in problem solving you can ask questions that provoke thought and reflection encouraging him to find conclusions and solutions to his own problems.
Give YOURSELF a Timeout
Sometimes the hardest thing about having a son that expresses lots of anger is managing your feelings in the moment. Sons can say hurtful things, your fears may be triggered, or you may be afraid for your family’s safety. In this situation, give YOURSELF a timeout. The issue does not have to be resolved right now, give your son some space (as long as everyone is safe) this space allows for all parties to calm down, think things through and make better decisions. After sufficient time has passed reconnect with your son, apologize for any mistakes you made and start over by using suggestions 1 and 2 from this list.
Large expressions of anger are a clue to you about how “powerfully” your son is feeling his anger. Sometimes, he will have a difficult time calming down, or keeping his “bottle from bursting”. These times of feeling out of control are normal for a boy that is still learning to self-regulate. You can help him to learn to self-regulate by modeling calmness, using controlled breathing, and practicing mindfulness (more on this in future posts). You can also talk to your son about how his brain helps with regulation. Watch this video from Dan Siegel to learn more.
One of the major challenges parents encounter in the face of their sons anger is maintaining family limits when things get really heated. It is important that you calmly, and consistently set limits on behavior in the home. These calm and consistent limits allow your son to know “how far he can go” in expressing himself. He will push up against them and test them but when you calmly maintain the expectation it feels safe and comforting to him. Sometimes, these limits are broken in such cases it is important to refer to suggestion 3 and give YOURSELF a time out before calmly talking to your son about what will happen next. Giving time for all parties to calm down is a very helpful thing.Five ways to help your son with Anger
So what do you think, what have you found to be successful when helping your son to manage his anger? Leave a comment below