Helping Kids Control Their Anger

Simple Strategies for Anger Management

Anger is often the emotion that gets us in trouble.  We've all seen anger outbursts.  It might be a teenager screaming and slamming their bedroom door when mom and dad say "no" to them staying out past curfew or a toddler who flings their bowl of pasta on spaghetti night.  Then there are more serious incidents where anger gets the best of us and can lead to us saying some very hurtful words or a fight that results in serious consequences.

I recently received a question from Austin, a teen who asked for my advice in helping him control his anger.  Here are some tips that I gave him...

1.  Realize that You Are Making Yourself Upset

Have you ever heard that phrase, "They were pushing my buttons"?  Well, believe it or not, it's a total lie.  There's no remote control connected to your brain that someone can pick up, press, and instantly make you mad.  If you take classes on psychology or anger management you'll quickly learn that no one has the power to make you angry.  Yep, that's right.  They CAN'T make you mad.  Instead, you mentally process their behavior in a way that you upset yourself.

To deal with the emotion of anger, you must first understand that it's not others making you mad that is the problem.  The real problem is that you are upsetting yourself.  Now that you know that it's YOUR THINKING that's causing you to get angry, you can work on changing your thinking and your actions.  When you do this, your feelings will follow (research Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for more on this).  You can't control other's actions but you can control your reaction.  How you respond makes all the difference.

2. Identify Your Hot Buttons

We all have things we become more easily upset over.  In other words, we can predict that we are more likely to choose anger in responding to the situation.  When others learn what those those things are, sometimes they will try to make us upset by doing the very thing that almost guarantees a negative reaction.  Identifying these triggers will help you prepare an alternative response and remind you to "chill out".  What are your "Hot Buttons"?

3. Recognize Your Physical Cues to Anger

Our bodies give us some clear signs when we're about to "lose it".  Recognizing these physical cues is the next step to helping yourself overcome angry responses.  Take a look over the list below and identify three physical cues that you exhibit.  If you're not sure, review the list the next time you get angry.

Physical Cues

  • Shaky/Weak Knees
  • Clenching Fists
  • Sweaty Palms
  • Warm, Red Face
  • Biting down
  • Muscles Tensing Up
  • Butterflies in the Stomach
  • Feeling Speechless or Stuttering

Every person has 3-10 seconds after these physical cues show up before they go into the "Rage Phase".  In these 3-10 seconds your thinking is clear but the clock starts ticking.  You can teach yourself coping skills so that you know how to calm yourself down in this time frame and change the thoughts that are making you angry.  How many seconds do you have? 

3. Choose Coping Skills to Use in the Moment

It's not just enough to know how much time you have before you move to rage.  Counting down the seconds until you lose it will not help you calm down but coping skills can.  Not only are these skills helpful in the moment (when you try and talk yourself off the ledge) but they can also be used as part of a routine to release stress.

4. Practice

As with anything, practice makes progress.  Yep, I meant what I said.  No one is perfect. Reward positive behavior and celebrate progress.  It can take years to master the skills that I've shared but having a caring adult cheer you on and break down the steps certainly helps.  Don't feel like you need to master this overnight.  


This article comes from Jeff Veley's personal coaching journal from helping at-risk youth in residential treatment programs.  Teaching is partially taken from SAFE DATES, an evidence-based curriculum in which Jeff is a certified facilitator and trainer.

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Jeff Veley

Jeff Veley is youth speaker, bullying expert, and social skills educator.

His mission is to equip students with the social and emotional skills that empower them to face adversity, grow in resilience, and solve their own social problems by exercising the Golden Rule.

To date, Jeff's message has reached over one million people.  Jeff and his program have been recognized by the Interfaith Peace-Building Initiative of the United Nations and are a recipient of the Golden Rule International Award for effectiveness in teaching conflict resolution.  The United Nations officially recognizes Jeff as a Goodwill Peace Ambassador in over 120 nations of the world.