Winter cabin fever is challenging enough on the average day, but if your cooped-up teen is also dealing with an anger problem, it can make the colder, darker season seem even longer.
Conflicts can increase in any family when a child hits the “tween” or teen age. Kids become capable of handling more independent thinking and behavior and are usually clamoring for it. Parents recognize their child’s increasing skills and capabilities, but must continue to set limits. Neither has experienced this family dynamic before, and it usually causes some bumps in the road.
With hormonal changes occurring at the same time, teen tempers can flare more easily, and it may seem as if being contrary has become your child’s new hobby.
Anger is a normal emotion, familiar to us all. However, caution and discretion must be taken when expressing it, and often a young teen hasn’t yet developed the skills to cope. Still, as a parent you always have to watch because very extreme anger or rage also can be a sign of something that goes beyond normal.
Take the following thoughts into consideration when helping your child manage his anger:
n Differentiate between the feeling and the expression. While everyone has a right to their feelings, even anger, it is how the child expresses it that can turn the corner and be acceptable or not. Let your teen know that you can accept her feeling mad, but you will not accept slamming doors or abusive language.
n Feelings come from thoughts. Help your child understand that when he is angry, he can manage his feeling simply by becoming aware of his thoughts and taking a moment to change them. If he’s mad because he can’t watch TV until he finishes his homework, change “Now I’ll miss my favorite show” to “Maybe I can tape it and watch it when I’m done.” If he’s mad because the basketball coach reprimanded him in front of the team, change “He hates me; he’s always on my case” to “He didn’t kick me off the team like he did to Steven last week.”
n Look for safe outlets. Telling a young teen to let her anger out in a “safe” way may leave her baffled. Many kids have no idea of what those ways might be. Help your child to brainstorm things she might do when she needs to let out anger. Ideas could include: writing in a journal, going running or to the gym, going out in the back yard and shouting, playing an instrument or verbalizing the emotion. (“I am SO ANGRY right now!” is a powerful statement that can knock wind out of the anger sails.)
The physical energy behind anger can be powerful. Sports or other aerobic activities are great ways to release physical tension. A punching bag in the garage or basement, a stack of old phone books that can be ripped up or a basketball hoop all are safe outlets.
n Schedule prevention time. When you keep everyday stress low by practicing a tension-relieving activity, anger won’t be as extreme when it is triggered. (Hint: This applies to adults, as well.)
Regular physical exercise through athletics, stretching or yoga helps release built-up tension. Ten minutes a day of relaxed breathing, meditation or listening to relaxing music can also “soothe the savage beast.” Allowing family time for sharing ideas constructively gives teens a chance to voice their opinions, be heard (this means you’ve got to listen) and keeps anger from building up. In other words, find ways to take the lid off the pot to keep it from boiling over.
n Practice what you preach. Don’t expect your kids to manage their anger if you fly off the handle at the drop of a hat, if you and your spouse have high-impact fights in front of your kids, or if you have trouble managing your temper with your child. You are teaching anger. It’s not always easy to control emotions, but if your kids see you trying, they will learn to try also.
n Check out extreme behaviors. Sometimes anger seems to come for no logical reason, or is far more extreme than a situation warrants. A child who is punching holes in walls, breaking possessions, threatening other people or expressing anger in an extreme manner may need more help.
Ask your teen how much control he feels he has when he is “exploding.” If his angry behavior is frightening to you or to him, it would be wise to consult with a physician or counselor. Extreme rage can be a sign of other emotional disorders, and your child may need more help to manage his behavior.
Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 21 and 25. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.