Sometimes emotions can be very powerful, like the revving engine of a race car. Anger and frustration can feel like they are driving you. Dr. Michael A. Tompkins has created a manual for teens to help them learn to calm anger, manage frustration and irritation, and de-escalate tense situations.

This adapted excerpt from his Note to the Reader in Zero to Sixty: A Teen’s Manual to Manage Frustration, Anger, and Everyday Irritations, speaks directly to teens. It explores anger and some first steps teens can take toward controlling it based in cognitive behavioral therapy.

High-performance cars can go from zero to 60 in just a few seconds. That’s moving; and that’s what anger can feel like sometimes. One minute you’re cool and calm and then next minute, in a flash, you’re boiling. When that happens, people tell you to chill out or calm down, but no one actually teaches you how to do that.

There are tools to control your anger, and you can learn them. Understanding anger is an important first step in building those skills.

Own your anger
Anger is an interesting emotion. It makes people uncomfortable. Anger can push people away or even frighten them. This makes it hard for people to understand others who are angry in the same way they understand people who are stressed, anxious, or depressed. When people are stressed, anxious, or depressed, others will often sympathize with them and tell them that it isn’t their fault that they feel the way they do.

When people are angry, however, they are often blamed for feeling that way because others believe they could calm down if they wanted to. This makes it hard for people to own the anger and ask for help. It’s not easy to own a problem. It takes courage to stare down anger and decide to take it on.

Do you see anger as something outside of your control? Do you think that you wouldn’t be angry if people treated you differently? What if:

  • Your teachers didn’t load you with so much homework,
  • Your friends did things your way, or
  • People left you alone?

Then you wouldn’t get angry. It’s them, not you, and to a degree that’s true. Other people do play a role. Sometimes people say something that hurts your feelings or treat you unfairly. Sometimes people do these things intentionally, and sometimes accidentally.

What you do have control over is how you react to these things. Owning your anger means you don’t blame your friends, your school, your parents, or yourself. Owning your anger is the first step in taking charge of it.


Admit the Benefits of Anger and Give It Back
Have you ever lost your temper:

  • To get out of class, homework, or chores,
  • So that you could get your way, or
  • Put someone down so you could feel better about yourself?

Part of owning your anger means admitting that sometimes you use anger to help you get what you want. But understanding the payoffs and realizing that you do this doesn’t mean that you don’t want to overcome your anger. It just means that you have two minds when it comes to working on it. One mind tells you that anger makes your life very hard. The other mind is comfortable with the way things are.

If you think you benefit from getting angry sometimes, consider, at least for a while, seeing what you can accomplish without getting angry. Otherwise, you may never know what you can do and what you can be.

How could life be if you could keep your cool?

  • Would you have more friends?
  • Would you feel less stressed at home and at school?
  • Do you have a reputation you don’t like?
  • Do people, even some close friends, see you as the kid with anger issues?
  • Do teachers and coaches think you’re touchy and sometimes lose their cool with you?

Learning strategies to calm down, based on cognitive behavioral therapy, can help you manage anger, frustration, and irritation. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that teaches people skills to manage anxiety, anger, and even depression.

Your body, thoughts, and actions drive anger, so you need tools or strategies to manage all three.

  • You can learn strategies to calm your body and mind to use at the first signs of anger.
  • You can learn to communicate with adults and peers effectively, so you can diffuse situations that fuel your anger.
  • You can learn to solve problems quickly so that you don’t feel stressed and frustrated,
  • You can learn how to de-escalate situations and respond to put downs, and
  • You can learn skills to build your self-esteem and self-confidence.

Owning your anger, deciding to do something about it, and learning strategies to manage it will put you in the driver’s seat instead of your emotions.

by Michael A. Tompkins, PhD, ABPP

This Article's Author

Michael A. Tompkins, PhD, ABPP, is a licensed psychologist and board certified in behavioral and cognitive psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology. He is the codirector and cofounder of the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy, assistant clinical professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and an adjunct faculty member for the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. He is the author or coauthor of 12 books, including My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic (with Katherine Martinez) (2010), which is a Magination Press bestseller and included in the Reading Well for Young People initiative sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, London, United Kingdom. Dr. Tompkins serves on the advisory board of Magination Press. He lives in Oakland, California. Visit him at San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy and on Twitter.

Related Books from Magination Press

  • Zero to Sixty: A Teen’s Guide to Manage Frustration, Anger, and Everyday Irritations

    Michael A. Tompkins, PhD

    High performance cars can go from zero to sixty in just a few seconds. Anger can feel a lot like that for teens. One minute they are calm, but the next, something sets them on a course to speed out of control.

    Getting to anger’s edge too fast can get teens in trouble. Expert author Michael Tompkins offers tips and tricks to help stall anger and leave it by the side of the road. Teens will learn how to calm their body, derail thoughts that fuel anger and learn how to communicate and de-escalate situations.