“Whatever mom!” “You don’t understand.” “Get out of my room! If you are the parent of a 12-24 year old these are common furious proclamations from your tween/teen. How does a parent deal and learn how to handle this behavior? Most parents that end up in my office are at wit's end when it comes to the anger they experience from their children and the most common question is what to do.
First, let's identify the main culprit of your child’s anger when it is directed towards you. It is a myth that all of tween/teens behavior is tinged with “hormones” that make them act “crazy” and you have to survive this phase of life. In his new book, Brainstorm, Dan Siegel explains that it is not simply hormones that are making your child act differently; also in play are the immense changes and remodeling of the adolescent's brain creating some of the behavior. When it comes to anger towards you, their parent, it is an area of the brain called the limbic system that causes your child to want to disengage attachment with you and engage in attachment with their peers. When it comes to anger in other situations, it is the constant and massive shifts in their neurology that create a heightened sense of emotion and impulsivity. The task is to get away from seeing it as “crazy” and “disrespectful” and more as a new, amazing developmental shift from adolescent to adult.
Here are a few tips on how to handle your child in the midst of an anger attack:
1. Calmly label the anger. Say something like, “I see how angry you are, but please do not speak to me that way”
2. Describe the goal or speak to what you think they are feeling: “I can tell that my curfew might make it so that you have to explain yourself to your friends and you may feel embarrassed.”
3. In the moment or later, allow time to hear and discuss their side of the situation and more often than not, find a way to come to a compromise.
These simple steps taken consistently with your tween/teen when angry or in any emotional situation helps them build self-soothing techniques, self-esteem, ways to debate and feel like they are seen by you. Step number 3 is the most important, since following through and hearing each other out can help them become the adults they are moving towards and still maintain a line of communication.