Helping Your Adopted Teen Manage Anger

Some teens struggle to control their anger and frustration during moments of high stress. Adopted teens with behavioral issues in particular may have angry outbursts or react with extreme irritation to everyday situations. In many cases, anger is a symptom of more profound psychological distress. For example, children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) may have problems reacting appropriately to social conflicts. According to the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Maltreated children can interpret and process anger differently than normal children.”

Havenwood Academy uses evidence-based methods to help teens manage anger related to mental health or behavioral issues. Our treatment program gives teens the tools to develop essential coping skills to regulate emotions. 

Why Do Some Adopted Children Struggle With Anger Issues? 

Adopted children may have underdeveloped social skills that make it difficult for them to cope with interpersonal conflict. Trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) often contribute to anger management problems. In The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. Van der Kolk, the author states, “Because traumatized people often have trouble sensing what is going on in their bodies, they lack a nuanced response to frustration.” Instead of analyzing and processing their emotions, children with fewer coping skills may revert to anger. Professional mental health treatment is often necessary to ensure adopted teens recover successfully from early childhood trauma. 

According to Developmental Psychology, one study reported, “23% of the 360 children (ages 6–10 years, primarily 7–8) showed at least 1 expression of [context-inappropriate] anger.” Context-inappropriate behaviors like aggression can be a result of trauma. At Havenwood Academy, we treat anger issues and behavioral problems using a range of evidence-based and alternative methods, including: 

  • Psychotherapy
  • Neurofeedback
  • Animal-assisted therapy
  • Family therapy 
  • Anger management 

Addressing underlying trauma makes it easier for teens to manage symptoms of mental health disorders. In addition, treatments like eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and brainspotting can help children connect to their emotions in a healthier way. 

Anger Often Masks Other Emotions 

Children who grow up in unhealthy or unstable environments may have difficulty recognizing or processing emotions. In some cases, teens may mistake anger for other emotions like fear, embarrassment, or frustration. Alternatively, they may feel uncomfortable with those emotions and mask them with outward anger. The presence of symptoms like depression or anxiety can also impact a child’s mood and how they interpret emotions. Unusual or extreme anger is a common symptom of teen mental health disorders.

3 Ways to Calm an Angry Teen

Anger is often triggered by physical stress or moments of emotional distress. Children who struggle to control their anger may have difficulty coping with strong emotions, including positive ones. Below are three methods parents can use to calm an angry teenager.

#1 Give Them a Safe Space to Process Their Feelings 

Children need a safe place to process their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. In some cases, time and space to work through their feelings give children the opportunity to calm down and look at the situation objectively. Parents can take positive steps to avoid triggering maladaptive anger. 

According to Child Maltreatment, “[E]mpirical evidence indicates that venting anger may actually increase anger and aggression.” By giving their child a safe space where they can calm down, parents allow the child to regain control at their own pace. Many teens feel safer retreating to their room or visiting a close friend when they feel overwhelmed. Allowing them that freedom of choice when they’re angry can build trust and help them avoid negative patterns of behavior.

#2 Model Healthy Emotional Responses 

Everyone experiences anger sometimes. Children often learn to control their frustration by watching how the adults around them respond to emotional distress. Adoptive parents can model healthy responses to anger by practicing the following: 

  • Keeping a calm and level voice
  • Communicating effectively using objective instead of emotional arguments 
  • Staying physically relaxed and using deep breathing or other techniques to remain calm 
  • Actively listening and practicing conflict resolution

#3 Stay Objective and Nonjudgmental During Angry Outbursts

Teens who have difficulty identifying and processing emotions often internalize negative feelings or beliefs until they boil over. If parental figures snap back, blame the child, use shaming language, or use a similar heightened response, it can often make the situation worse. Instead of responding emotionally, parents can take a mental step back and look at things objectively. Anger often masks fear and other emotions. By stopping and actively listening to their child, a parent can effectively de-escalate the situation.

The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology says, “Parents and children tend to mirror each other’s affective behavior during the course of conflict.” By remaining calm and objective when the child is emotional, parents model healthier behaviors for their child. 

Help Your Child Manage Their Anger 

Anger management is easier for children who have a consistent and safe home environment where their voice and opinions are heard and valued. Parents can help their adopted teen learn healthy ways to redirect anger by providing resources and emotional support. In addition, parents control most aspects of a teenager’s environment, which can significantly affect how well they recover from trauma and stress. 

Some teens substitute anger for other feelings if they do not know how to identify, process, or regulate their emotions. In many cases, anger is less distressing for them, and angry outbursts may be a maladaptive coping mechanism. Teens with unmanaged anger issues often carry trauma or other underlying problems. Professional mental health treatment can give them the tools they need to heal. Your child can learn to control their anger and manage their emotions with the help of personalized treatment. Havenwood Academy offers evidence-based mental health programs that treat trauma and emotional distress. We can help your child learn to manage her anger effectively. To learn more about our programs and services, call us today at (435) 586-2500.


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