Interacting With Your Teen Constructively: Do’s and Don’ts
by Taylor Marrs. LPC
It can be difficult to avoid escalation when enforcing rules or parenting teens. Not only are teens at times defensive when having behaviors corrected, but many parents experience an emotional response that can make it difficult to maintain a neutral demeanor. These tips will help you and your teen work through difficult conversations without escalating into an argument.
- Stay Calm – Teens notice when adults’ emotions are elevated. Remaining calm and objective will reduce the likelihood of escalating the situation. Show your teen you care by sticking in there and not “losing it”. One of best approaches to staying calm is to focus on listening first and asking clarifying questions.
- Encourage Self Expression – Allow your teen to express their opinion but set a boundary and require that they do so in a way that is healthy and respectful. For example, “You can be expressive, but I won’t let myself be verbally attacked. I want to hear what you are saying. Please say it differently.”
- Have Empathy – Validate your teen’s opinions and emotions and empower them to focus on the root cause rather than the anger itself. Use expressions like, “I could imagine that you felt…” or “So you must have felt….”
- Discuss Difficult Topics at Calm Times – Refrain from addressing contentious topics during periods of stress or tension to reduce the chance of escalation. If a conversation gets too heated, give your teen time to cool off and reflect.
- Maintain Consistent Expectations & Consequences – Having consistent expectations can make consequences seem more reasonable and acceptable. Even in a moment of conflict, don’t threaten your teen with a consequence if you do not intend to follow through. This can undermine current and future boundaries established with your teen.
- Encourage Self Care – If you notice your teen is frustrated, encourage them to engage in something you know is an outlet for them. Pursuing passions can help reduce stress and improve self-confidence.
- Lecture – Teens will tune out in as few as five words. Directions are often most effective when they are clear and concise.
- Give Up When Situations Escalate – Establish non-negotiables by remaining constant and setting boundaries for explosive/disrespectful behaviors. For example, you may set a boundary with your teen by stating, “Please do not speak to me that way, it is disrespectful.”
- Banish – Avoid sending the teen to their room, which can send the message you don’t care, or don’t want them there. This also leave the conflict unresolved. If you do need to take a timeout to avoid escalation, let your teen know that you need to take a timeout to avoid escalating and you will continue the conversation with them at a later time. For example, “I’m flooding, and I don’t want to lose my cool. I’m going to take a time out and I’ll pick up the conversation with you in an hour.” You can also call a timeout if your teen is escalating and then set a follow up time with your teen. The timeout isn’t used to avoid the conflict, but to manage the conflict.
- Establish Rules Without a Relationship – It is very important to spend one-one-time with your teen and to play and have some fun with your teen. Remember that rules without a relationship equals rebellion.