If your son is angry it might be because he is not getting what he needs. Excessive anger can also be a symptom of depression in adolescents. Read my article Is My Son Depressed? to learn more. If your son is lacking any of the following it could be contributing to his anger.
- Safe Relationships
- Strong Boundaries
- Feeling Respected
- Balanced Nutrition
- Restorative Sleep
- Routine and Predictability
The Purpose of Anger
Many parents that I talk to in my work counselling young men are at a loss to understand their son’s anger. Parents sacrifice so much for their children and outbursts of anger directed at them can feel like a betrayal.
Anger leads to conflict which erodes trust and destroys relationships. To understand where his anger comes from you must first understand the purpose of anger. Anger, like any emotion, is one way our bodies communicate to us that something is missing.
Usually anger is triggered when we are trying to get something that we want or need, but are unable to. Think of a toddler who melts down when they hear the word “no”. Being denied what we need leads to frustration which can grow into anger and eventually boil over into full-blown rage.
Once you understand what it is that your son is missing you can give it to him. This is the most effective way to calm his anger and restore your relationship.
Human beings are social creatures and the drive to connect with other people is incredibly strong. Relationships aren’t just important, they are essential for our health. The largest and longest study of human health found that close relationships are the single more important factor in long-term health and happiness.
In his book Hold on To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains that for children this need is best met by parents and other supportive adults. This is because their peer relationships are often volatile leaving adolescents vulnerable to feeling isolated when there is conflict or change in their peer group.
You can meet your son’s need for a safe relationship by spending time connecting with him. Boys often have a hard time connecting verbally so make sure to do activities with him that he enjoys as a way of showing him you care. Some ways you can connect with your son include: sharing memes, listening to music, playing video games or learning about his interests.
For more idea’s read my article on How to Connect With Your Depressed Son. If your son feels connected to you he will be less angry as his need for safe relationships is fulfilled. While it’s important that your son feel safe with you, without strong boundaries you may still find yourself at the receiving end of his anger.
Boys need strong boundaries to help them recognize the needs of others and constrain their anger. If your son often gets angry when he doesn’t get his way it could be a pattern of behaviour that he has learned will get him what he wants. When I say “learned” I don’t mean that he’s being intentionally manipulative, but rather that he has been conditioned to respond in a certain way.
The exact same underlying process works in training dogs. When you train a puppy every time he does the right thing you immediately give him a treat. Eventually he will associate the desired behaviour with a reward and keep repeating it even after the reward is slowly phased out.
In the same way, every time your son gets angry and you give him what he wants you will reinforce this pattern of behavior. The only way to break the pattern is to have strong boundaries and not give in to the pressure when he becomes demanding. If you haven’t said no to him in a long time he will likely respond by getting angrier in a desperate attempt to get what he wants.
It’s crucial that you stand firm in this case. Otherwise you’ll be rewarding his bigger outbursts and ensure that he will resort to this again in the future. It’s important that when you set a boundary you remain respectful of your son so that he doesn’t become embittered towards you.
Teens are halfway between childhood and adulthood and desire to have more autonomy and choice over their lives. One the other hand they also need guidance and boundaries to contain their impulsive and sometimes reckless behaviour.
But if you try to control your son he will interpret this as disrespect and rebel even more. The best way to make your son feel respected is by making him feel heard and that he has a say in how you parent him.
This can be done by listening to his concerns, validating them, and being open to discussion about his wants and needs. First listen to what your son says and try to reflect it back to him. Keep trying until he confirms that you understand and then validate how he feels. To validate his emotions say something like “It makes sense you feel that way because _______”. You may not agree with him, and that’s ok.
It’s more important that you convey you understand WHY he feels a certain way. Once you have validated him be open to discussion about finding a compromise. At the end you may disagree and have to make a unilateral decision. But by offering your son respect you will help cool his anger and reduce the potential for future conflict.
Balanced nutrition is an important but overlooked component of managing anger. If your son is hungry he will be more irritable and likely to erupt if tested. Personal experience has taught me this the hard way. I used to get into arguments with my wife every day when I came home from work.
Embarrassingly, it took me forever to realize it was because I was hungry and tired from work. Once I realized this I ate an apple after work, and another snack upon getting home and it reduced the conflict almost entirely!
To avoid unnecessary arguments make sure your son has eaten before trying to communicate with him. In addition, it’s equally important to reduce his intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates (white bread, rice, potatoes, processed food). These foods cause a spike and subsequent drop in glucose (blood sugar) which will make him irritable.
Another way to mitigate a blood sugar spike is to pair high sugar/carb foods with protein (nuts, beans, meat and dairy) and/or fibre (fruits, vegetables and whole grains). This slows the uptake of glucose into the bloodstream reducing the chance of a spike.
You have probably had experiences where being tired causes you to do or say things that you later regret. This is because being well-rested plays a key role in regulating our emotions. Scientific evidence is now shedding light on why this is the case.
In his book Why We Sleep sleep Researcher Dr. Matthew Walker discovered that sleep-loss resulted in decreased communication between the areas of the brain that controlled emotion (cortex) and the one that controls emotions (the amygdala). This resulted in massive pendulum-like mood swings in sleep-deprived research participants.
Teenagers need about 8-10 hours of sleep every night. Some signs your son might not be getting enough sleep are fatigue, poor concentration and irritability. If you know your son is tired try to avoid discussing topics with him that might lead to conflict.
Follow the advice in my article on How to Protect Your Son’s Sleep to make sure sleep-loss does not contribute to your son’s anger. A stable sleep routine is an essential ingredient in your son’s daily schedule.
Routine and Predictability
Uncertainty causes stress which can lead to anger. Think about the times in your life when you were under the most stress. Did you treat the people around you with respect and kindness, or snap on them for the smallest transgressions?
Stress causes our bodies to go into “fight-or-flight” mode, and your son’s default response may be “fight”. One major cause of stress is unexpected changes in our lives. Many of these are unavoidable. But by creating a schedule for your son you can reduce his stress and consequently his anger.
A simple way to do this is to have a family schedule on the fridge or shared online. This should contain important daily, weekly, and monthly events so that everyone is on the same page. Make sure to communicate in advance of upcoming events, and encourage him to do the same with you.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents get in fights with their son because of an event or activity that either party was unaware of until the last minute. By being on the same page about daily events, including chores and expectations there is less opportunity for miscommunication, uncertainty, stress and conflict.
Is your son always angry? What has worked for you in helping him? Feel free to leave a question or comment below.