Having an angry teenager in your life can be tough for the whole family, including the angry teenager themselves.
If you want to know how to calm a situation rather than aggravate it then keep reading.
The first thing to understand is that calming somebody down, or de-escalating, isn’t about reasoning with the person who’s angry. The purpose is reducing the intensity of their anger and emotions enough so you can get to a more productive place. It’s only after everybody is a bit calmer that reasoning and discussion can happen.
How to calm down an angry teenager
The first thing to think about when trying to de-escalate a situation is your presence in the space.
Here are our top tips.
- Don’t turn your back on the person and make sure the door is accessible.
- Keep a large physical distance from them, preferably 4x more than usual.
- Minimise your body movements. In particular, don’t point fingers or wave your arms.
- Keep your body language neutral. This means arms by your side, a relaxed stance, facing the person openly and shoulders up straight.
Next, you’ve got to figure out where you want your head to be at before starting the conversation.
Here are our top tops.
- Even if you don’t feel it inside, appear calm and centred. Having the neutral body language mentioned above will help with this.
- Breathe normally; using some deep (but not loud) breathing if you get stressed. Count to 4 as you breathe in, pause, and then count to 6 as you breathe out.
- Speak clearly with an open and neutral tone of voice.
- Be respectful even when calling for help, remembering that the person who is angry is probably feeling very sensitive to shame and guilt.
- Have somebody you can debrief with afterwards.
Now we’re not going to lie to you, this is going to be tough. Interacting with a person who’s angry and trying to reduce the intensity of this emotion will probably take a lot out of you, but the fact that you are doing it shows just how much you are there for them and want to make things work.
Here are some tips for what you say and do:
- Don’t answer ‘rude’ questions like ‘Why are you a bitch?’
- Give choices wherever possible ie. ‘Would you like to continue talking right now or come back to this later?’
- Don’t ask how they’re feeling, instead ask them open-ended questions that are specifically about de-escalating the situation ie. ‘What would you like to see happen now?’
- Let them finish everything they have to say, even if it’s hard to hear
- Separate the person from the behaviour and try to give consequences without threat or anger
- Suggest a break if it seems like one or both of you need it
- Calm down together by counting to 10 or breathing deeply
- Use ‘I’ statements ie. ‘I feel scared when you yell and swear at me’
- Use ‘and’ rather than ‘but’ ie. ‘I can see what you’re saying and I also see the need for…’
- Validate their feelings ie. ‘If I felt like I was being ignored all the time I would probably feel angry too…’
- Reframe things from negative to positive to highlight common ground ie. ‘Honesty and fairness are obviously very important to you, and they’re important to me too’
If none of the techniques above are working, it’s best to suggest leaving it there. Otherwise you’re at a much higher risk of you both getting frustrated and the anger escalating further.
If the anger is escalating throughout this process and you start to feel threatened or afraid then here are a few things to do straight away.
- Separate from the angry person
- Don’t engage with them
- Go to another room or outside to decide what to do.
- If the person has calmed down a bit it’s best not to launch straight into discussion, but do something together that you’ll both enjoy/calm you down further like have a snack, play a video game or go for a walk. Afterwards you can start to unpack everything a little and figure out what triggered their anger and how they’re feeling about it now.
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If you’re having trouble with dealing with an angry teenager you can also work with a ReachOut Parents Coach on it. They can support you to come up with an action plan for the different scenarios you might find yourself in.