“You’re not being fair!”
“Just DO IT!”
“I’m not a child anymore. Stop telling me what to do!”
“If you’d act like an adult, I wouldn’t have to tell you what to do!”
“Just leave me ALONE!!”
The words are followed by a door slamming.
Do your “conversations” with your teenager all too often ignite arguments like that and turn your family’s home into a battleground?
Your teen becomes headstrong and opinionated. And, in turn, you get so frustrated that you lose control and yell back whatever pops in your mind.
Of course, that isn’t helpful at all.
So, what can you do to stop the screaming matches and de-escalate your teen and the situation?
Steps to Soothe Volatile Communication with Your Teen
While screaming matches don’t promote productive communication patterns between you and your teen, be assured there’s nothing wrong with either of you.
The issue at the base of the problem is that your teen is turning into an adult. They are beginning to form their own personal opinions about things and trying to exert their independence from you—at times rather willfully.
Unfortunately, they often do not possess the emotional maturity to know how to regulate their feelings nor how to express them in a non-confrontational way. The apparent lack of respect can easily affront you and have you draw the line forcefully. And thus, the above-mentioned battle starts.
Instead of taking offense and a rigid stance, follow these four steps to de-escalate your teen, yourself, and the entire situation:
1. Strive to stay calm
Composure comes from within. It’s a mindset you have to prepare yourself to fall into when situations get heated. And it all starts with you—the parent.
When you can remain calm in a volatile situation, your teen learns from your example. After all, actions usually speak louder than any words… especially yelled words. So, if you’re trying to talk to your child and neither of you can stay calm, it’s time for a break. Go to separate places until you calm down, then come back to begin talking once again.
While you are separated, it’s important that both you and your teen know how to compose yourselves. Teach your child by example how to make a list of things they can do to calm down. Such things can include deep breathing, physical exercise, playing music, drawing, writing, etc. Practice those calming techniques whenever possible so that you can fall back on them naturally when situations begin to escalate.
A calm mind promotes clear thinking. Clear thinking, in turn, leads to productive communication.
2. Pay close attention
Believing someone is not listening is frustrating. So, to de-escalate a situation, it’s important that your teen feels you hearing them. Once again, you have an opportunity to teach by example. When you practice active listening skills, your teen will learn them, too.
Active listening means you give the other person your undivided attention—stop what you’re doing (remove distractions like TV, cell phone, siblings, etc.), face your child, make eye contact, and use facial expressions and bodily gestures (such as nodding your head) to show that you are listening. Moreover, reflect back to your teen what you hear them say in your own words. That, more than anything else, will show them that you’re interested in the conversation.
Remember, rather than overreacting to a statement you may not agree with, try empathizing with your teen’s feelings. And instead of brushing their worries aside, say something that starts with, “I can see how that may…”
3. Seek to understand and guide
Only when you truly understand a situation can you help solve a problem. To understand the full scope of a problem, you must ask questions while you’re listening to your teen. Be careful not to jump to conclusions. Instead, if you’re not sure what they mean, ask for clarification.
Once your child is finished talking and before you state your own viewpoint or arbitrarily impose specific actions upon them, think about your response carefully.
When you do reply, be reasonable and try not to dictate. Instead, give your teen a chance to put their mind to work and think the matter through with your guidance. Abstract thinking skills are like developing muscles, and your child needs to learn to exercise them. Allow them to brainstorm options and come up with their own solutions.
However, if you must bring out a point your child may reject, keep it brief. There’s no reason to argue an issue to the bitter end. That certainly won’t soothe the situation. If your teen does not agree with your statement, they’re not prepared to talk about it rationally anyways. It’s better to just let them hear what you said and give them time to ponder on your message later.
4. Give genuine praise
Strengthening your teen’s self-esteem can contribute a great deal to an overall sense of tranquility. That’s because the anger and frustration that often lead to outbursts are generally motivated by feelings of insecurity and loss of control.
You can help your teen boost their self-esteem by giving genuine and generous praise—when it’s merited. Praise, when not earned, is empty and does not help to build self-worth. So, spend time with your teen, enjoy a hobby together, teach them something, or just talk. And while you do that, stay alert to the moments when you can validate them with genuine approval and appreciation.
Above all, remember to be patient. Change usually doesn’t happen overnight. But if you adhere to this steps—practicing being a good example in staying calm, listening carefully, understanding, and continuously looking for opportunities to praise your teen—you will not only learn to communicate better but also build a close and lasting relationship.