When working with teens who struggle to manage their anger, it’s critical to keep it real. There is no magic bullet when it comes to dealing with anger management for teens. Changing how our brain is wired to enable us to manage powerful emotions takes time. As teachers and parents it is our role to teach youth how to effectively manage their anger and other emotions before a problem arises.
Five Ways to Help Teens Manage Anger Constructively
Teach students the difference between primary and secondary emotions
A primary emotion is what we feel first, such as fear, sadness, joy, and acceptance. Explain to students that anger is a secondary emotion. It is an emotion that evolves from what we feel first. Help teens to identify the primary emotion underlying their anger, so they can more clearly express their feelings. Explain that if they say they feel pressured, left-out, or sad, as opposed to saying they feel angry, it is much clearer what their unmet emotional need is and what would help them to feel better.
Help students recognize physical manifestations of anger
When someone is in a conflict, his or her amygdala, the brain’s emotional alarm system, scans the situation for potential danger. If the situation registers as dangerous, a distress signal is sent out to the entire brain. This, in turn, triggers a cascade of physiological responses including faster heart rate, mobilized muscles, and the release of “fight or flight” hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline). Brain studies suggest that the moment a person becomes self-aware of escalating emotions, they activate the pre-frontal lobes. This activation reduces stress hormones and allows a state of calm to return. Therefore, it is important to help teens to notice changes that happen in their body. Then they can investigate the thoughts feeding the stress and change their self-talk to be more constructive.
Teach students positive self-talk
Positive self-talk can be used by teens to help decrease their feelings of anger and choose how to react in a conflict. One anger management strategy is to have teens employ positive self-talk when they notice their body is in a “fight or flight” state. Do not, however, confuse positive inner dialogue with positive thinking, happy affirmations, or self-delusions. Using logical, accurate self-talk means recognizing one’s personal shortcomings. It also means putting them in perspective and defining a do-able plan of action. To demonstrate the appropriate use of self-talk, role-play one person (A) putting down another person (B). After being insulted, person B shares his or her best positive self-talk. For example: “She must be having a bad day,” “I can handle this,” and “It’s not worth the price to fight.”
Help students to own their emotions
It is important for teens to remember that no one can “make” them mad. They not only have the right to feel, but they are also fully responsible for those feelings and the way they handle them. Teach students that no one can put feelings inside of them. People can only trigger their anger. They choose how they feel. Reinforce the concept that, in choosing, they are empowered and, when they don’t choose and don’t own their emotions, they are giving away their power.
Teach students to keep their power:
There are three ways that teens can give away their power in a conflict:
- By blaming others
- Expecting other to behave a certain way
- Believing that they can change someone else
When they blame someone else for their anger, they are saying that person is responsible for their anger, and therefore they give away their power to someone else.
Help teens to understand that their expectations are their choice. If they set expectations for another person and become angry when that person doesn’t meet their expectations, they give away their power. Teach them that if they base their happiness on whether someone will change, they give that person the power over their emotions. The other person can control their emotions simply by changing or not changing.
Teaching anger management for teens is a process. These five strategies will help you start making progress with your students. For more on anger management for teens, take a look at my anger management curriculum, Transforming Anger to Personal Power.
Click HERE for more information on Susan Fitzell’s Anger Management Curriculum for Teens!