What’s the best advice for a young person suffering with “Anger problems”?

This is a question that was posted on a LinkedIn forum.  I believe the answer involves two issues.

The first issue involves the phrase “suffering with anger problems”. The second issue involves explaining emotions to kids. The two issues are related.

Let’s talk about the idea that your kid “suffers” from an  “anger problem”.

To approach your child and his (or her) behavior from this point of view will not, over time, be productive.  And, it is not accurate.

Your child may “suffer” from a cold, a  broken bone, or a rash all of which are physical in nature and each of which will eventually heal and go away.

Anger is an emotion which reflects how your child views his world and prepares him to deal with that world.

Anger is a primitive threat detector. Your child’s anger reflects his perception that a threat exists.  That threat could be to his goals, his expectations, or his immediate needs.  The behavior you see is his attempt to deal with the perceived threat.

Anger is a psychological phenomenon which is experienced physically.  Anger is never the “problem”.  It will not go away over time and there is nothing that needs to be “healed”. Behavior that is elicited in the service of anger may be problematic. The way to deal with anger is to understand the underlying perceived threat and address that.

It is important to note that your “advice” will vary with the age of the child.

I view all emotions, including anger, as tools. This is both a description of an emotion and a metaphor.

Anger as a metaphor lets you explain what emotions (including anger) are.

Using “emotions as tools” as a metaphor enables you to explain the concept of an emotion to both kids and adults. As a metaphor, your kid can understand that his anger, the TV remote, his phone/computer, or mom’s sewing machine are just tools that have a specific function. You can choose a “tool” that your child will relate to given the age of the child.

Anyone can understand that you have to learn how to use the “tool” in order to get the most out of it. This is called a learning curve.

From this perspective, you own  a phone, you do not have a phone problem. You experience anger, you do not have an anger problem.  What you do have, in both cases, is a knowledge or training issue.

Anger as a description lets you teach your kid about anger.

Anger, as a tool (description) is a primitive threat detector. When you get angry, your anger tells you that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. The anger cycle describes how mastering anger “works”.

You can download a copy of the Anger Mastery Cycle by scrolling up to the Welcome post above.

When angry, your kid is perceiving a “threat” to his goals, his needs, his values, his sense of “fairness” or how he thinks things “should” be.

From this perspective, you can talk to him (or her) about the perceived threat (This validates him.), whether or not there actually is a threat (This is the beginning of anger mastery), and the best action to take in the situation (This empowers him.).

You can also talk about the consequences he currently experiences when he gets angry. These are the reasons you say he has an anger “problem”.

The issue here is not necessarily whether those who are labeling him are right or wrong. In fact, they could be either one.  The issue is that your teen is getting in trouble and needs to learn how to deal with that situation.

It is important to note that everyone, including your kid

To view anger as a tool validates (does not necessarily agree with) the anger and shifts the focus to your child, consequences, actions, and making a plan. This is what you want.

To view anger as a “problem” invalidates an important feeling and disempowers your child.

So, what do you say to a teenager who is being told he (or she) has an “anger problem”?

First, you need to ask your teen if he thinks he has an anger problem and what he thinks might be going on that someone else thinks he has an anger problem.

This should get you some valuable insight into how much your child knows about himself, to what degree can he empathize with others, and to what extent he tends to “blame” others for difficulties he is experiencing.

The information you are looking for is the “threat” your teen perceives which is eliciting the anger.

You can then validate his perception with or without corroborating the validity of the threat and attempt to move him toward an adaptive resolution of the interaction.

If his perception of the threat is accurate…

“I can see what you mean. What might we do to resolve this situation?”

If his perception is inaccurate…

“I understand how you might see the situation as you do.  Is there another way to look at it? What do you think it might take to resolve this situation?”

When you validate your child’s anger, you establish that you and he are on the same “team”, the goal of which is to understand the anger and help resolve the perceived threat. Again, remember that you are not agreeing with the anger (or that there is an actual threat). You are only validating that he is angry and that he perceives a threat.

You can then begin to discuss the nature of the threat and how you can help him (or her) resolve it.

I welcome your comments.

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