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

What does it mean to ‘calm someone down’?

Calming someone down who is angry, sometimes called de-escalation, isn’t about reasoning with them. The purpose is to reduce the intensity of their anger and emotions so that you can get to a more productive place. It’s only after successful de-escalation that reasoning and discussion can happen. However, de-escalation is certainly not the automatic response of most people, so don’t feel bad if all of this feels a little unnatural at first.

Keeping yourself safe

De-escalation is great for when you feel safe and comfortable interacting with the person who is angry. However, if you, your family or your property are being threatened, then it’s important 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 outside to decide what to do.

If you have an angry teenager, you might feel ashamed or guilty that you are scared of them, but it’s important to remember that your family’s safety is your top priority. 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

The first thing to think about when trying to de-escalate a situation is 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 your head is where you want it to be at 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 some shame and guilt, along with their anger, and will be very sensitive to any imagined insult.

Calming down – The conversation

Now, we’re not going to lie to you; this is going to be tough. Interacting with a person who’s angry, and trying to reduce the intensity of their emotion, will probably take a lot out of you. However, the fact that you are doing it shows them just how much you are there for them and 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 such as: ‘Why are you such a bitch?’
  • Give the person choices wherever possible. For example: ‘Would you like to continue talking right now or come back to this later?’
  • Separate the person from the behaviour and try to explain the consequences without threating 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 obviously 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 suggest leaving it there. Otherwise, there is a much higher risk of both of you becoming frustrated and of the situation escalating further. 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 might find yourself in.

If the person has calmed down a bit, 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, such as having a snack, playing a video game or going for a walk. 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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