Note: The article below belongs to a collection of questions that I received and answered online. This is not intended to, nor should it not be construed as counseling. If you believe that you or your child is suffering from anger management issues, please reach out to and consult with your physician for personalized medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions.

Question:

Dear Counselor,

How do we discipline our 12-year-old son who has developed in over a year extreme anger – tantrum issues with parents and his 15-year-old sister. He no longer wants to pray his solat regularly and is we do insist by waking him us for fajr prayers or disturbing his sleep he will launch at us and starts getting vulgar and violent. We tried reasoning with him about balancing secular and religious duties and sometimes give him more harsher punishment like taking away his tv/hp/internet surfing privileges. Now he has started demanding apologies from us instead of apologizing to us for his mistakes. When he finally calms down he will be extra nice and apologizes to us for what he has done and be the angelic boy that he is normally. He also cannot control turning the house upside down with furniture throwing etc. Now he would not accept any instructions and gets hysterical again. We seem to be losing the battle of authority now because he does not fear any punishment method out even tho we threatened him with physical punishment for not praying. I have cried buckets and believe this is our test from Allah to practice patience but we worry for his future. We will continue to pray that Allah provides him what is best for him and may Allah ease all of us parents in our duties to raise the next generation Muslim Ummah. Ameen.

From Humbled mum

Answer

Asalaamu alaikum,

May Allah (swt) reward you for reaching out and grant you strength and patience during this trying time. Ameen.

It must be so hard to see someone you love so tremendously walking down a path that causes you to fear for him. It is clear that you care very deeply for your son and that you are trying your best to raise him to be a God-fearing young man. Issues of anger management in teens and preteens are something that I’ve worked with often and I know how detrimental this can be to the family as a whole. Seeing your son lose control can be a source of, not only a lot of anxiety, but also a great deal of fear. You can often feel powerless when your son becomes physically aggressive since there is no easy solution at such a frightening time.

What is he REALLY feeling?

Anger is what is called a “secondary emotion” because it often masks the true emotion beneath it. We react to situations with anger because this makes us feel powerful rather than vulnerable. A primary emotion is what is felt immediately before we feel anger. What else could he be experiencing? Perhaps something has caused him to feel sad, frightened, attacked, offended, trapped, hopeless or alone.

Culturally, for boys in particular, there is a stigma associated with showing emotion. However, anger is considered an acceptable emotion for a boy to show because it is considered “macho” or “masculine,” while sadness or fear is not. Ensure that your son knows that it is ok to show all types of emotions. If possible, ask his father or a close male figure in his life to speak with your son about the fact that it takes a brave person to show emotions and that it is perfectly fine to share your feelings.

Seek a professional consultation

Be aware that there is a possibility that these signs may indicate depression. It seems counterintuitive that aggression and irritability may be symptoms of depression but children and teenagers often display this disorder differently than adults. Since it has been over a year since he began experiencing extreme anger and aggressiveness, your son will likely benefit from counseling. I’ve seen incredible changes in teens I’ve worked with who display aggression so do not underestimate the power that connecting with a trusted adult can have. In addition to this, family therapy may also be helpful to ensure that you all grow and develop together.

Also, it sounds like the anger your son began showing over the course of the past year was very sudden. In this case, it might be helpful to explore if a particular issue arose during that time. Did he experience something traumatic? Is it possible he may have been bullied at school?

What happened to my sweet, angelic boy?!

Adolescence is a very tumultuous time emotionally and physically. The physical changes preteens begin to undergo can be attributed to hormonal fluctuations. Changes in hormones also affect emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Many parents feel as though they are seeing a completely different side of their children when they undergo puberty.

A lot of brain development occurs during adolescence and the brain areas that are most transformed by the end of a person’s teen years are the regions that are key to the regulation of behavior and emotion and to the evaluation of risk and reward. That is why many adolescents are more prone to risk-taking behaviors and struggle to consider consequences and take responsibility for their actions.

What can I do to help my son manage his anger?

Many times, our instinct is to “toughen up” and become stricter when our children act out their anger. However, this is precisely the time when teens in particular need reassurance. That is not to say that he should get away with it but rather the issue should be addressed in a firm but loving manner so that he realizes that all limits are in place due to your love and concern for him.

There are two statements of the Prophet that illustrate the importance of showing love to children:

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle kissed Al-Hasan bin Ali while Al-Aqra’ bin Habis At-Tamim was sitting beside him. Al-Aqra said, “I have ten children and I have never kissed anyone of them,” Allah’s Apostle cast a look at him and said, “Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Narrated ‘Aisha: A bedouin came to the Prophet and said, “You (people) kiss the boys! We don’t kiss them.” The Prophet said, “I cannot put mercy in your heart after Allah has taken it away from it.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

While so much turmoil goes on inside him, your son needs stability from his parents. And the best stability you can provide him is love, open communication and firm expectations and limits with reasonable consequences.

May Allah (swt) reward you for all you do for your children and for your deep concern for their wellbeing. May He (swt) bring peace and happiness to your entire family. Ameen.

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