How to Stop Fighting With Your Teen

Research shows that a teen’s developing brain can often lead moodiness. While arguments are common among teenagers and their parents, it can be a frustrating time for the whole family. Board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner, Tiffany Pottkotter, PMHNP-BC, psychiatry, says she has many clients who tell her they are at their wit’s end when dealing with their angry kids.

“I see many teens and parents who have problems communicating with each other. Often, parents get in a power struggle with their teens: they get authoritative, their teen’s behavior escalates and then the teen often either shuts down or just stays angry. There are some things parents can do – and some actions they can avoid – to help de-escalate a bad situation.”

Do not threaten with negative consequences in the moment. Instead, set limits on behavior. “Threatening often makes things worse,” says Pottkotter. “People get into a power struggle and it becomes all about who’s in control and who’s going to win.”

Do not yell at your teen or use physical force. When anyone – including a teenager – is angry, he or she is not thinking rationally. Simple rule: Consistently model the behavior you wish to see from your teen.

Try not to take your teen’s behavior personally. Pottkotter says, “There’s a lot going on in a teenager’s life that can contribute to anger, including hormones, lack of sleep, underlying depression/anxiety, drug/alcohol use, relationships and identity issues.”

Let your teen express their feelings. Yes, even anger. “People are allowed to be sad, feel hurt and get angry,” says Pottkotter. “Parents should  help teenagers process these feelings in healthy ways so anger doesn’t escalate physically.”

Set boundaries with your teen. Pottkotter says, “Parents need to stay informed about their teen’s online activity, for example, and who they’re hanging out with. Additionally, give teenagers more opportunities as they grow older to demonstrate responsibility.”

Help them find an outlet for their feelings. Parents may also encourage their teens to express their anger in such healthy ways as writing, playing sports, talking with trusted friends and approaching their parents for frank discussions. “It’s so important that teens know their parents are always available to them,” Pottkotter emphasizes.

If you have tried these techniques or unsure what next steps to take, Pottkotter suggests seeking out a professional counselor or psychiatrist to get to the root of the issue. She also suggests that parents who do not feel in control of their own anger seek professional help, too.

Pottkotter stresses that it is far easier to build an environment that is healthy for small children to grow into than it is to repair a broken relationship with a teenager. “Making sure the home is a safe place for all who live there to express their feelings will go a long way toward helping children grow into happy, productive teenagers and adults.”

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