Family Therapy: When Children are Angry

As a parent, you might suddenly find yourself with a child or a teen who refuses to answer you, slams the door a lot, locks him/herself in their room and doesn’t open when you knock, refuses to do chores he or she never had a problem with before, or screams at you. Maybe you know they might be mad about something, maybe you don’t have a clue what’s going on.

Children in Families Have Little Real Power

It’s important to realize that, as parents, we have the power in the family. It may seem as if children have power when they act in the ways I’m writing about above, but if they really did have true power, they wouldn’t need to act like that. The only way they have power is if their parents give them power, by giving them real age-appropriate choices, asking for and listening to their feelings and opinions and helping them be a real, important and necessary part of the family .

Sometimes Decisions Need to be Made by Parents Alone

Unfortunately, there are situations that arise where parents need to make decisions for the whole family that children and teens can’t influence. For example, when a parent loses a job or gets transferred and the whole family has to move to another city for a new job. This disrupts everyone’s lives. Children lose their friends, after-school activities and their school. For teens, this is especially difficult, because it’s a time when social life is so important. With great effort, they’ve created their circle of friends, they’re involved in sports that may help them get into college, and maybe they’ve developed relationships with favorite teachers. Moving somewhere else suddenly ends all that, and their new environment in anew citywill probably not be very welcoming at all. Teens, especially, are very reluctant to allow new people into their social circles. Sports teams are all set up already, and hard to break into. And who knows if new teachers will react as positively as the old ones. Imagine the fear, frustration, feelings of helplessness, loss, grief and also anger that would naturally arise in the child or teen in such a situation.

Teen Anger Might Seem Like the Only Option

I recently saw a family where the parents had to make a unilateral decision like this. One of the children relatively quickly came to see the need for the decision and was able to make peace with it. But the other child was very hurt, felt trapped and thus really angry with the parents. Because he had no choice about the decision, he was also trapped with his feelings. What an agony! So he started “acting out” in the ways I mentioned above.

Family Therapy Can be Helpful for Teen Anger

It turned out that the solution for everyone was for the teen to be able to let the parents know that he was still angry about having his life disrupted, even though he understood why it had to be. He could give up “acting out” because he was allowed to freely vent his hurt and anger directly. What a relief for everyone.

For more information on how I work in family therapy and relationship counseling, check out my Family Therapy and Relationship Counseling pages.


Making Family Roles More Fluid

As you may have noticed–:)–around the holidays, entrenched family patterns get really powerful. I think that that’s partly because we automatically drop into  family patterns in our family relationships  even more than usual. That’s to be expected– when we were kids, the same things happened over and over, and we reacted similarly over and over, until the whole family—kids and parents together—unconsciously created a rut as deep as a canyon. And it’s really hard to climb out of a canyon!

Entrenched Family Patterns

In family therapy, it soon becomes clear that, whether we’re talking from the point of view of the “child” in a family or the parent, most of the time people come only from their own experience of what’s happening, their own point of view. “My mother never trusted me—after the age of 12, my daughter always shut me out.” “Beginning when he was 14, my son hated me and did the opposite of anything I told him—something changed when I reached puberty; my Dad criticized everything I did.” Etc., etc. You get the picture. Often, the family patterns that started at a certain point in the family’s life become routine and entrenched.

Entrenched family patterns often start because each person is interpreting the other person’s actions, without checking out if the interpretations are true. We don’t know we’re doing it, because we’re assuming we know what’s going on with the other person—and we’re basing our own actions on our assumptions. That’s what creates emotional pain that can last a life-time.

Changing Family Relationship Patterns

As I said, we usually get stuck in our own interpretation of what’s going on, which creates stress and anxiety, emotional pain and even sometimes physical illness, especially around holidays—with family rites come automatic family patterns. I see this in my relationship counseling practice all the time. But how about looking at it from the opposite point of view? I think of it as moving over to the “other side” of how someone is behaving to get at what might really be going on.

Critical Dad?

For example, with the Dad above, who seemed to criticize everything you did when you reached puberty, you might want to imagine into Dad’s life when he reached puberty. Was his family poor and he had to go to work in a factory? What might that have been like for him? Did he enjoy that or did he have other dreams that were thwarted? Did he have to go to night school and work at a drudge job for years to get where he is now? If all that’s the case, why would he be constantly on your case? Could he dread the idea that your life might turn out to be as hard for you as it was for him? Might he want a better life for you? How would you react to him knowing that?

Hateful Son?

Another example—the son above, who seemed to hate you, Dad, and did the opposite of everything you told him. Maybe you can feel into the “other side.” Think back before he became a teen. Was he getting good grades in school? Did you and he do things together? Did he sometimes show you projects he’d done? What was your response? Did you praise him or encourage him to do more? Could it be that he thought, by suggesting what more he could do, or by asking why he’d gotten a “B” on a test, he thought you didn’t think he was trying hard enough, and he started feeling not good enough? Could he have given up on trying to please you? How would you react to him knowing that?

Mother and Daughter Conflicts

In family therapy and relationship counseling in general, I try to help people move around in family roles, to become more fluid in their point of view. You can try it on your own with the mother/daughter problems above—do your own conflict resolution. Or think about your own family and try it!

By the way, this method of going to the “other side” for conflict resolution works for all kinds of relationships and groups, not only for families. I’ve done conflict resolution in businesses as well.

Relationship Counseling

If you’d like to know more about how I work with family dynamics, relationships and individuals, check out my Family Therapy, Relationship Counseling and home pages, or contact me.

Wishing you a free and joyous life,





Relationship Counseling for Emotional Freedom

Love Grows with Immediate Positive Feedback

How many times during couple’s counseling have I heard wives or girlfriends say something like “if I have to ask him to bring me flowers and THEN he brings them, it spoils it!” He should do it because he wants to, all by himself!” Or, “She knows I like barbecue flavored potato chips to eat during games. Why won’t she just get them while she’s out buying other stuff? I shouldn’t have to ask her.” This kind of thing is not gender-specific or heterosexual-specific. It seems to be how we humans think.

Sometimes We Have to be Counter-intuitive

You might think wanting your partner to know what you want and WANT to give it to you would make him or her give it to you more often, and you might be surprised that you’ll actually get LESS of what you want this way. You could keep going around in circles forever and stay mired in emotional pain. What we do when we think or even say something like the above to our partner is to put them in a painful double-bind. If they don’t bring the flowers, they’re bad; if they do, it’s because you told them to, and it’s too late or not the right way or why did I have to ask you again? It actually stops them from bringing home flowers or barbecue flavored potato chips.

The Benefit of Positive Reinforcement

In a way, we’re a lot like animals—when we get positive reinforcement, we tend to repeat a behavior. Remember the experiments with mice? The mouse wants food and so it pushes a lever. If you want it to push the lever five times, you give food the fifth time it pushes the lever. If you want it to learn how to run a maze, you put cheese at the end of the maze. Not that I want to say you’re a mouse, but wouldn’t you prefer giving your partner flowers or potato chips if they thank you for it right away instead of making you feel guilty for not doing it enough?

Relationships Improve With Immediate Thank You’s

There’s a great little book called “The One Minute Manager” that teaches how to get the most from your employees—and help them feel appreciated at the same time. I’ve found the lessons in the book work great for relationships of any kind. One of the main pieces of advice is that, if you want someone to do something in a certain way, each time they do it, thank them RIGHT AWAY and let them know how the’ve helped you or how it changes your experience positively. Getting this kind of feedback makes us feel appreciated and loved, and we want to do it again. So everybody’s happy.

Repetition Helps

You might have to persevere with your positive feedback—say it every time your partner does something you like for a while. Soon, things will start changing.

Couples and Relationship Counseling

If you’d like help getting on the right track, or learning more tools for improving your relationship, contact me at  or check out my website, or specifically my page on Relationship Counseling.

Wishing you a  free and joyous life!