I was recently working with the parents of a young man who noted that their son had been “snarky” after school recently. They were concerned that the way he was expressing his anger and frustration wasn’t respectful, and wondered how to address this with their son?
It is still common for many parents to feel like children should be respectful to adults and should not talk back and express anger directly or indirectly (passive-aggressive comments, talking under his breath) toward adults in the home. While I think it is very positive and necessary for young men to learn how to express their anger in responsible ways with parents and others in their lives, I think it is unreasonable to expect that they will do it perfectly as teens/young adults.
To be able to express anger in a responsible way requires a number of “steps.”
- Awareness of feeling anger/frustration.
- Insight into why that feeling is arising at that time. (I’m tired and I just want to chill out for a while).
- Owning the feeling (I am feeling angry right now so don’t want to talk) vs blaming others or situation (You ask too many questions mom!)
- Finding a way to advocate for himself and find a way to get his needs met. (Mom, I have had a challenging afternoon and want to just chill out and listen to music while we drive home. Once we get home, I will answer your questions. Is that ok?)
This process may seem easy and straight forward, but for the male, adolescent brain, it can be overwhelming and almost impossible.
So how can parents support their sons to develop the skills needed to responsibly express their anger?
Here are 7 steps that parents can use:
- Take care of yourself (as the parent) – Use one of your favorite self-care (link) techniques to calm yourself and not react to your son’s anger. Work diligently to not get pulled into his anger to the point where both you and your son are now angry!
- Try not to demand respect, and instead try to be curious about how your son is feeling and what he is experiencing.
- Validate/recognize his feelings. Saying something like, “seems like you are not in a good mood right now” can be useful for helping your son to gain awareness of what he is feeling.
- Ask questions to help him gain insight into how he is feeling and what he is needing in the moment. – “What are you needing right now?” “Is there anything I can do to support you?”
- Offer space – oftentimes for young men, physical space (going to their own room) and mental/emotional space (listening to music, paying a game, chillaxin’) allow for young men to process their experience so they can talk about it.
- Continue the conversation – Follow up after some time has passed, to check in and process what happened and what needs to be done (now and in the future).
- Support/strategize – If you son is open to it, you can be a useful resource in working through the challenging situations and helping him to find ways to get his needs met.
This process may seem overwhelming at first, but as you practice it regularly with your son, you will find that he will become more capable of communicating his needs and feelings in a responsible and respectful way. Helping your son to learn this skill is very important, so stay calm and parent on!