Anger and Self-Talk
If your teen is struggling with anger, there are many techniques that can help him control it. One such way is “self-talk.” Self-talk is the conversation that you have with yourself inside your head, or in other words, your thoughts that come in response to a situation. For example, if you are deciding whether or not to eat a fattening dessert, your self-talk might go something like this: “Wow, that sounds good. I already ate way too much at dinner but I am planning on exercising tomorrow, so I guess I’ll go ahead and have it.”
Your son can can change his behavior and feelings about an event or situation by changing his own self-talk. For example, to change your mind about eating that fattening dessert, you might train yourself to think different thoughts. You might get yourself to remember something like “My doctor told me to lose weight and heart disease runs in my family” when faced with that kind of decision. This same strategy can be applied to anger that gets out of control or is inappropriate to the situation.
Certain kinds of thoughts will make your teen angrier and other thoughts make him less angry. If he can recognize the thoughts that makes him angrier, he can try to replace those thoughts with calming, soothing thoughts that will bring his anger level back down.
Examples of Angry Thoughts
- “Well, she’s late, that ruins the whole day.”
- “I can’t stand in this line one more second.”
- “I can’t stand how she always talks to me like this.”
- “It’s really not worth getting all angry about and it doesn’t really ruin the whole day.”
- “Why should I get all angry about this? I can wait a little longer, it’s no big deal. Who will care in a week anyhow?”
- “In the big picture, this is pretty small. I’ll just make the best of it.”
“Should” thinking can also be problematic. These thoughts can change your son’s wants into demands that are placed upon the rest of the world. Your teen thinks like this when he uses a lot of “should be,” “need to be,” and “is supposed to be” in his self-talk. For instance, “She should be on time.” Although your teen may have strong feelings and opinions about the way things “should be,” we do not live in an ideal world or in a world where we get to have control over other people and all events. No matter how mad we get it probably isn’t going to change these facts.
Examples of “Should” Thinking:
- “They need to do it my way, it’s the way things should be done!”
- “He should be more considerate and be on time!”
- “That’s not fair!” (implying that it should be or needs to be other wise)
- “It’s not realistic to think people will always act the way I want them to.”
- “I can’t control how other people act, no matter how angry I get, so why let myself get all worked up about this?”
- “Well, it looks like I won’t get what I want this time. It’s not the end of the world. It’s disappointing but I can deal with it.”
- “Instead of getting angry, I’ll tell her that I’d like her to call me if she’s going to be late.”
Thoughts that label people or things in extreme terms can lead to increased anger. Labeling someone as an “idiot” or a “fool” will make your son feel angrier. Using swear words can also make him feel angrier. Help him to use more realistic negative descriptions.
Examples of Thinking in Extremes
- “This guy is a damn idiot!”
- “This thing is a useless piece of crap!”
- “This guy sure is a slow worker.”
- “It’s broken, that’s all.”
Jumping to Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions without checking out all the facts can cause problematic situations. Your son’s conclusion might not be accurate and it also might increase his anger. If he had all the facts, he might find out that his anger is out of proportion to the situation or not needed in the situation at all. Help him to slow down and check out the facts.
Examples of Jumping to Conclusions
- “The only reason he would do that is to get to me.”
- “He cut me off on purpose!”
- “Where’s the evidence that this is the only possible reason?”
- “Maybe he is just a bad driver. Maybe he’s on the way to the hospital. Don’t jump to conclusions.”
Changing self-talk is only one technique to help with anger. There are many other anger control strategies, like “time outs” and deep breathing and exercise. Your son will feel more in control of his anger as he practices using different anger-reducing techniques.