How to Handle An Angry Tween

I’ve noticed that when tweens are angry, they are ANGRY. Something triggers them, and everything that’s been bubbling up inside of them throughout the day or week or month combusts all at once and they explode—usually lashing out at someone they love and are most comfortable with (like a parent). And while it’s tempting to respond to the yelling with a, “Don’t you dare speak to me like that, I am your MOTHER,” that’s so not what they need in that moment.

While I’m no professional, I’ve found what works when tweens have gotten angry near/at me is helping them through the explosion and seeing whether that’s all they needed or if there’s something else that needs to be addressed. Don’t get me wrong: they’re not allowed to just be rude to me (which I would deftly take care of). More often than not, they genuinely explode in an out-of-control manner on someone they feel safe with either because they’ve been dealing with too much and it needs out, or there’s something they need help with. That’s what I’m talking about here today. The following are the two steps I try to remember to take once I witness such a combustion.

Keep My Own Calm While Letting Them Know Their Feelings Are Valid

  • Remember how emotionally tumultuous the middle school years can be (especially these days).
  • Take a breath before responding.
  • Watch my volume and tone: don’t get defensive or yell in response to being yelled at.
  • Offer a hug or personal space: it’s their choice, not mine.
  • Zip my lips and listen. Stay quiet and keep listening. They will fill in the silence.
  • Relay their emotions and words back to them to let them know I heard them.
  • Ask if there is anything else bothering them right now, since they’re letting it out, anyway.
  • If they escalate and can’t calm down, or won’t stop screaming at me, let them know that I think I need a moment before we can talk, so let them know I’m going into the next room (or whatever) and then we’ll talk more in a minute. In a minute, follow through on those words and come back in to try again.

Assess the Situation and Offer Up a Next Step

  • Squeeze: Just wrap myself around them like a weighted blanket until they feel less out of control and it calms them down.
  • Release: Let them run off to be alone for a bit.
  • Send them to the shower: White noise and a waterproof notepad to put down their thoughts as they clear their heads can be helpful. Simply the act of going in there can feel symbolic, washing away their troubles.
  • Sweat it out: Physical exercise helps us process the tangle of our thoughts and emotions, so get that kid on the basketball court, lawn with a soccer ball, kitchen for a dance party and move ’til we’re both out of breath and smiling.
  • Sit with them in silence: I’ll offer to stay with them, whether or not we talk about it. Sometimes this means we do our own things, just in the same space. Other times, this means we watch a movie or TV show together to escape the situation for a bit.
  • Follow up: The next day or so, talk about what happened and ask if there is anything else going on that they want to talk about. It might be over, or there might be another layer to the situation that they’re now ready to get into. Either way, this lets them know that I didn’t forget about how they felt, and am still here for them.

One More Thing

When no combustion is in sight, it’s nice to just drop little reminders—no long-winded speeches, please—that if they ever want to talk, need a hug, ask for advice, or feel like getting something off their chest they do not want any advice on, you’re there. Then drop it and move on. Like, literally walk out of the room. You said your piece, they heard it, and that’s what matters. Even if it seems like they’re ignoring you (or if they say, “I’m ignoring you, Mom!”), at least it’s out there. It might not seem like much, but it’s a gift every kid needs from their parents.

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