Child and Adolescent Anger: Ways That You Can Help Right Now

by : William DeFoore

What do we do about the violent adolescents?

Good question. Here are some possible answers. Angry children need love. The older and angrier they get, the harder they are to love, and the more frightening they can become. If you have an angry teenager in your home, extended family or community, here are some ideas that may help:

Do everything in your power to get to know them.

Find out what they like to do and do it with them. That's a stretch in some cases, but do the best you can. They will notice the effort. Stay true to yourself-if they see you trying to become like them, they'll lose respect for you.

Ask them to tell you about the things they're interested in. You may have to prove that you're really interested before they will open up, but if you're sincere and persistent, they will start talking.

Be a steady, loving presence in their life. You may have to forego some of your other activities, but if you have an adolescent who is possibly moving toward violence or suicide, it's worth it.

Get in touch with your own healthy anger, so that you have the personal power and confidence to deal with the energy of adolescent anger.

Work to master humor and love. Find as many ways as possible to have fun with the adolescent and show your love. Make sure that you are pursuing the relationship for them, and not to fulfill some unmet needs from your own past.

Consult with other adults and parents who are good with teenagers. Watch how they interact with kids and learn from their example.

Pray. You're going to need all the help you can get, and you need to know you are not alone in your mission to bring love to this unhappy child.


This is simply impossible if you have outcasts and misfits in your own subconscious body/mind. So the first order of business here is to make sure you have found, embraced and made a place for the children within you that you or others may have found that represent remnants of memories that you have yet to resolve. These are the inner children that symbolize your pain, shame and self-doubt.

Rest assured that the outcast child that you approach in the outer world will not accept your embrace if they see unresolved fear and anger in your eyes or actions.

Since we know that the outcasts and misfits are the children most likely to become violent, it only follows that we must pull them into the arms of love and/or acceptance, and find a place where they fit. If our system doesn't have a place where a child fits, there's something wrong with the system, not the child.

Look around you in your family and your community. Do you see the outcasts and misfits? The ones that seem to have no friends, or who only hang out with others like them? Look for the ones that don't act "right," are too this or too that or not enough of the other. Especially look for the ones that are not talking about their feelings, and seem to carry a lot of depression and/or anger.

Genius often hides in such places. If you are wise, healthy and dedicated enough to win an inroad to the heart and mind of one of these "personas non grata," you may discover a hidden treasure. The movie "Good Will Hunting" depicts such a case, where an angry, violent misfit is also a gifted genius. The older movie "The Breakfast Club" also shows us the beauty in the shadow of the misfit.

Kindness and compassion will sometimes be greeted with doubt, fear and even anger at first. If you really mean it, and have the courage to do so, you can penetrate that outer shell and touch the tender heart within. You may be saving someone's life.

Consider the outcasts and misfits in your world to be unexplored territories of your own soul, undiscovered treasures waiting for you. The rewards will be as great for you as for those you help.

When we look deep enough into any living being, we find the face of God.

Teach this to your children, like Max did in the following example.

Max had come to me for almost four years, to heal from a very painful childhood, and to learn to manage his anger toward his wife. He was making excellent progress, and was tapering off in his sessions.

Max's son Derek was six years old, and the apple of his dad's eye. Max was determined to give Derek the healthy guidance, love and positive role modeling he had never received as a child.

Smiling ear to ear, Max told me of some of his recent successes with his wife and son. "I have always been afraid I would end up homeless and living under a bridge. So, I decided to confront this fear a little more directly. After church Sunday, Derek and I took about 40 hamburgers to the homeless people living under the overpass downtown. Derek loved it! Now he wants to feed all of the homeless people in the city. Those people were so grateful."

Max was quiet for a moment, as he wiped his eyes and regained his composure. He had given a great gift to some outcasts and misfits, to his son, and to himself.


What to say-When your child is in the middle of expressing anger, your verbal response is extremely important. Though it remains true that your non-verbal signals will speak more loudly than your words, we must not underestimate the power of the spoken word, particularly during intense emotional experiences.

-For a very young child, or if the anger is being expressed mostly in non-verbal ways, say something to the effect of, "Wow! I can see that you are really angry right now. I'm sure you have good reasons to be angry. Your anger seems really strong to me. I want you to know that it's okay with me for you to be angry, and I want to help you deal with it so that nobody gets hurt-including you." In these and other words, communicate the idea that "There's nothing wrong with feeling anger, the important thing is what you do with it."

-Practice reflective listening. Repeat back to the child what you hear her saying in a non-judgmental, soothing tone. This provides a comforting effect, and lets the child know she's being heard. Start with phrases like, "So what I hear you saying is…" or "So you're saying…" Stick with their words and references, using as little interpretation and as few of your own words as possible.

-Express empathy and understanding. This is simply a matter of imagining yourself in the child's position, and attempting to see things from his viewpoint. Use phrases like, "When I put myself in your shoes, I can see why you would feel that way," or "From where you stand, it looks like…" or "I think I see what you mean" or "That makes sense to me."

-Avoid teaching, correcting or instructing while your child is angry. Only when the child starts to calm down and relax, you may want to share some of your own similar struggles or experiences. The goal is to help them deal with and understand their anger. Discipline needs to be kept separate from this kind of communication, and administered when both you and the child are calm. That way the child gets the clear message that it is not their emotion that is being disciplined, it is their behavior.

What to do-If your child is small enough, you might want to try holding her during her anger episode. This has been found to be highly effective in many cases. It provides loving, powerful and safe boundaries when the child is feeling out of control. The non-verbal message is, "I'm here. I'm not going to leave you. I'm not going to hurt you, and I won't let you hurt yourself or anyone else. I'm going to hold you until you feel safe again." Here are some recommendations to make this procedure safe and successful:

-If you are extremely afraid or angry yourself, do not try this technique. Your emotions will feed the anger and fear of your child and make the situation worse.

-If you feel comfortable doing so, hold the child from behind, ideally with him sitting in your lap. Protect your face in case he tosses his head back toward you. The goal is for no one to get hurt.

-There needs to be both love and power in your embrace. Strong but not too strong, relaxed but not too relaxed. This lets the child know you are in charge, that you love her and can and will protect her.

-Be ready and willing to devote some time to this. If you don't complete the process, you may do more harm than good. Hold the child, and wait until he calms down and relaxes. Often he might cry or even fall asleep as the anger subsides.

-Through this gesture you are communicating love, acceptance, safety, protection and power all at the same time.

What to have the child do-In some cases, the child may need to release anger physically. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:

-Supervised play with toys, or play therapy in a professional setting, can be very effective in helping children release anger. The violence that occurs between the toy characters is non-destructive, and can be very informative to the therapist and/or the parent who is observing. This can also include drawing pictures, or throwing clay against a wall or board where no harm can be done.

-Hitting pillows or a mattress with a harmless object such as a nerf bat or bataca bat. This can be done in a playful manner, and the child will still receive benefit. In therapy, I often call it "the anger game,, so that children feel safe in approaching the activity.

-Children may sometimes benefit from the "temper tantrum technique." Parents should use their own judgment as to when it is necessary to contract for the services of a professional for this type of exercise.

-One of the best parents I know told me that he had his daughters use the "Name it, claim it, aim it" technique for dealing with anger. In other words he taught them to put a name on their feeling, take responsibility for it, and direct it into some kind of release or constructive activity. An example might go something like, "I'm angry and sad, Daddy," (naming and claiming it) "and I want you to help me talk to Bobby about taking my things" (aiming it). This is an excellent approach, and I highly recommend that parents use this and any other guidelines they run across that help them to teach their children to manage and express their emotions in healthy ways.

In conclusion, I encourage you to do your best to understand everything that is going on in your child's life and development process. S/he is a complex being, and everything s/he is feeling makes sense at some level. Believe in the goodness of your child. Remember, what you pay attention to grows.