Few things are more upsetting than when your teen talks back with a disrespectful tone, slams her bedroom door in your face or yells “I hate you.” Teen rebellion is a natural and important part of development, but knowing that doesn’t take away the sting or anger when it happens to you. And, when you’re triggered, it’s hard not to react and take it personally.
Instead of losing your temper with your teen or carrying the weight of upset through your day, deal with your rebellious teen in a constructive way. Here’s how:
1. Don’t take it personally.
Remember, your teen’s rebellion and defiance are not intentional. Teens are learning how to process difficult emotions and communicate their feelings and needs. Their push-back is part of how they develop assertiveness and self-advocacy skills. Although directed toward you, typically, their harsh words or behavior are not about you.
2. Stay calm.
Your reaction is a powerful teacher and shows your teen how to handle triggering experiences. If you fly off the handle and yell at her, you’re teaching her how to do the same. By showing her how you can gain a sense of calm despite feeling triggered, you set a powerful example for how she can practice emotional control.
3. Be clear with boundaries and show you understand.
Tell your teen that her harsh words or behavior are unacceptable while also expressing a desire to understand what she needs. You can say something like, “It is not OK to talk to me that way. Clearly, you’re upset and I’m sure there is a good reason why. I want to understand what is going on and I will wait until you’re ready to have that conversation in a calm, respectful way.”
4. Respond with the end in mind.
When you see your teen in a state of upset, consider what is the most important thing for her to learn. For example, you might recognize a need for her to learn emotional regulation or stress management strategies. You might notice she needs to learn how to have a difficult conversation with a friend or set a boundary. Consider how you parent her toward that desired outcome.
5. Focus on what she is doing right.
It can be easy to lose sight of the things your teen is doing right. Parents often get caught up in giving their teen constant reminders, telling them what they should/need to do, or pointing out where they have messed up. While this feedback is important, it is equally important to balance your pointers with praise and positive feedback.
Teen rebellion can also trigger worry. For tips on how to process your worry and parent from a place of perspective and calm, check out this blog.