How to calm down an angry teenager

a teenager standing at a kitchen table

This might help you if you: 

  • have a teenager or a person in your life who gets angry
  • want to know how to help calm a situation, rather than aggravate it
  • need some tips on anger management for teens

Red Hot vs Regular: Analysing anger on a sliding scale

Before you talk to your teen, it pays to remember that anger is a normal emotion and one that we all feel from time to time. Getting angry can be a helpful indication that we feel passionately about an issue, or have been experiencing a tough time.If your teen is feeling angry because a teacher at school is giving them a hard time, this may be a rational response to a frustrating situation.

But if anger seems to be their default mode no matter the circumstance, then perhaps it’s time to talk. Similarly, when anger begins to cause fear in others, turns violent or nasty, or generally creates an air of discomfort, this also indicates a more significant issue.

 Ultimately the best yardstick is your gut instinct. If someone’s anger is causing you anxiety and worry, then it’s worth talking about.

What does it mean to ‘calm someone down’?

Calming down someone angry isn’t about reasoning with them, but aiming to reduce the intensity of their anger and emotions so you can get to a more productive place. It’s only after successful de-escalation that reasoning and discussion can happen.

Don’t stress too much if you’re not sure how to handle someone who is in the red zone, it’s a tough ask and doesn’t always come naturally.

Safety first

De-escalation is ideal for when you feel safe and comfortable interacting with the angry person. However, if the threat feels real and genuine, then it’s essential to focus on protecting yourself and those around you.

Here are some key ways to keep yourself safe:

  • Move away from the angry person.
  • Don’t engage with them.
  • Go to another room or relocate outside to decide what to do.

Dealing with an angry teenager can be confusing, and you may feel ashamed or guilty when you’re scared of them. But it’s important to remember that your priority must be your family’s safety. For more info about what you can do when things escalate, read ‘What happens if I call the police?’, which looks at your options when things are in crisis.

Calming down – Physical

When trying to de-escalate a situation, consider your presence in the space. Here are our top tips:

A three tile comic strip giving the following tips: Check the door is clear, increase your physical distance, keep your body language neutral

Calming down – Emotional

Next, check that you're in the right headspace before starting a conversation with the person. Here are our top tips:

A comic strip with three panels listing the following tips: Check in with yourself first, take some quiet breaths, debrief with someone after

And a few more tips:

  • Use a neutral tone of voice.
  • Be respectful, even when calling for help. Remember that the person is probably feeling a degree of shame and guilt, along with their anger, and will be very sensitive to any imagined insult.

Calming down – The conversation

This next part won’t come easy but is a crucial part of working through the anger with your teen.Trying to converse with someone who is seeing red can be taxing and will probably take a lot out of you.However, the fact that you are doing it is proof of your support and reinforces how much you want to make things work.

Here are some tips for what you can say and do:

A comic strip with three panels listing the following tips: Listen and let them finish talking, together count back from 10, think about your language - I statements, try validate their feelings, specific questions

Here's a few extra tips: 

  • Don’t answer ‘rude’ questions or remarks such as: ‘Why are you such a dick?’ or 'I hate you!'
  • Give the person choices wherever possible. For example: ‘Would you like to bench this chat for now come back to this later?’
  • Separate the person from the behaviour and try to explain the consequences without threatening them or sounding angry.
  • Suggest taking a break if it seems like one or both of you need one.
  • Use ‘and’, rather than ‘but’, statements. For example: ‘I can see what you’re saying and I also see the need for…’
  • Reframe things from negative to positive to highlight common ground. For example: ‘Honesty and fairness are clearly very important to you, and they’re important to me, too.’

After the storm

If none of the techniques above are working, it’s best to push pause. Otherwise, there is a higher risk that mutual frustration will see the situation kick off even more. If the person’s anger hasn’t reduced throughout this process and you start to feel threatened or afraid, then follow our tips above under ‘Keeping yourself safe’.

If you’re having trouble with de-escalation, you can also get help from a ReachOut Parents coach. They can support you to come up with an action plan for the different scenarios you may face.

If the person has calmed down a bit, avoid having another crack at the conversation straight away; it's best not to launch straight into a discussion. Instead, do something together that you’ll both enjoy or that will help further calm the situation. See a movie, play a video game or grab lunch together. Afterwards, you can start to try and figure out what triggered their anger and how they’re feeling about it now. We’ve created an anger diary that you could both use to help you break the anger cycle.

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