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New skills to deal with anger
There are some really simple ways to support a young person to find alternative and more constructive ways to express their anger. Every young person will be different in what works for them. The best way to find out if to experiment and practice. Like any other skill, practicing will mean that it will be easier to use, particularly when they are feeling overwhelmed. The Youth AOD Toolbox has a detailed description and tools related to the techniques described below.
Relaxation techniques can help a young person alter what they are experiencing physically, calming them to a point that they can consider different responses to their emotions.
Try encouraging them to:
- Pay attention to your breathing, when they calm their breathing and relax their muscles, they send messages to their brain that there is no threat.
- Think about how their body feels.
If they are tense then encourage them to take a few deep breaths, or tense and release some of their muscles. Try to slow down their breathing. Dealing with their body's reactions to anger can help to calm their emotions and potentially find a better solution.
Distraction/Delay Decision to Act
Encouraging a young person distract themselves and think of something else when they are feeling distressed or angry can help to avoid them escalating. Consider things such as:
- Counting to 10 or 100
- Cleaning or cooking
- Playing video games
- Physical activity such as squats, push-ups, brisk walking
In times that they are calm and able to reflect it would be useful to explore things that they think might be a good distraction so that you can encourage these when you notice they are getting angry. Having a variety of such strategies helps to ensure something is accessible in different times and environments.
Remove yourself – Change your environment
Sometimes just taking a break, leaving the environment or going for a walk is all the young person needs.
Giving them space both physically and mentally can be useful.
If they leave, just be aware of other potential dangers such as driving a car or traffic. If they are volatile emotionally, keep an eye on where they are but by also allowing distance. This way they know you are there and that you care and want them to be safe but are allowing them space.
Agreeing to Disagree – Conflict Resolution
Disagreements are a normal part of human relationships. They tend to be even more common in with adolescents. People often find disagreements uncomfortable, however it is healthy to know that not everyone will have the same opinion or get along and when conflicts happen they can be resolved and relationships can be repaired. These are also important things for young people to learn. A lot of young people in out of home care have been rejected many times by those close to them that they may not understand how to repair relationships or even think that they can be.
When needing to raise a situation that might be conflictual think about:
- Timing. Pick your time. Don’t raise an issue if someone is emotional.
- Try and give everyone a chance to express their own point of view, agree to disagree
- Realise you may not agree, rather you are trying to work out how to get along
- Don’t hold grudges
When the young person is angry it is important to model good conflict management so:
- Hear them out (let them tell you why, listen and understand their feelings)
- Have boundaries (if you are worried about the way the young person expresses anger, work out some boundaries about what is acceptable ways to express feelings of anger)
Being assertive is about standing up for yourself without getting upset or losing your temper. Modelling and teaching young people assertiveness allows them other ways to express themselves and help them be heard when often they have felt ‘invisible’. Reinforce these behaviours by responding to them and giving them time rather than only when they are aggressive will encourage them to continue to express their anger in constructive ways.
Being assertive is:
- Being honest without being rude or hurtful
- Is about what you really want
- Allows other to feel safe and get what they want too
- Being respectful of yourself and others
- Does not intentionally hurt people
Some examples of assertiveness:
“Thanks, but I need some time to myself right now.”
“Thanks, but I’m not interested”
“I didn’t appreciate when you spoke to me like that”
“I don’t know. Mind if I think about it a bit more?”
“I know you still enjoy smoking weed, but I’m not comfortable with it anymore”
Click here for more on Assertiveness.
Sometimes, young people who struggle with anger, often find it difficult to see different perspectives and instead only see a situation from their view. Young people may often do the same thing over and over again even though they don’t get the outcome they want. These young people find it hard to behave or think in different ways to respond to new challenges. A young person can get very frustrated from this and it can contribute to them feeling hopeless and lacking any belief in their own ability to make changes or achieve their goals.
How flexible thinking works
How a young person thinks will influence how they feel, particularly how they interpret a situation. How they feel with then, in turn, influence how they think – a cycle. Helping them be more flexible in their thinking will help to break the emotion-thinking cycle. By being more flexible when interpreting situations, the emotions that arise can feel less intense and therefore seem more manageable. This happens because when a young person sees a situation from a different perspective they can consider that what they are feeling maybe isn’t the only way they have to respond. They have a choice and can see which one might be the most helpful.
Helping a young person be more flexible in their thinking:
- Come up with more than one way of looking at a situation and see things from another person’s perspective
- Be aware of their own bias in interpreting situations. This may be thoughts about themselves such as “I always get it wrong” or about the world “The world and people in it are dangerous”
- Accept that there are many other versions of a situation that are just as valid as their own
Sometimes it is useful to get professional support such as counselling to work through these thing in more detail.