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 involve the police?’, <link> 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:
- Don’t turn your back on the person, and make sure the door is accessible.
- Increase your physical distance from them to about 4 times more than usual.
- Minimise your body movements. In particular, don’t point your fingers or wave your arms.
- Keep your body language neutral. This means keeping your arms by your side and your shoulders straight, maintaining a relaxed stance, and facing the person openly.
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 tops:
- Even if you don’t feel it inside, appear calm and centred. Having the neutral body language mentioned above will help with this.
- Breathe normally. If you feel stressed, take some deep (but not loud) breaths. Count to 4 as you breathe in, pause, and then count to 6 as you breathe out.
- 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.
- After the situation has calmed down or been resolved, talk with someone about how you felt.
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:
- 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?’
- Don’t ask them how they’re feeling. Instead, ask open-ended questions that are specifically about de-escalating the situation. For example: ‘What would you like to see happen now?’
- Let them finish everything they have to say, even if it’s hard to hear.
- 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.
- Calm down together by counting to 10 or taking some deep breaths.
- Use ‘I’ statements. For example: ‘I feel scared when you yell and swear at me.’
- Use ‘and’, rather than ‘but’, statements. For example: ‘I can see what you’re saying and I also see the need for…’
- Validate their feelings. For example: ‘If I felt like I was being ignored all the time, I would probably feel angry, too…’
- 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 stormIf 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.
Did you find what you needed?
- Yes - Start keeping an anger diary with your teen
- No - Figure out what will happen if you involve the police
- I need to know more - Read our factsheet on anger