"Huh?" "Like ... Noooo! You can't make me." My teenager stared blankly through me and held a defiant stance. My ears burned. My blood raced. I pursed my lips to keep emotion from flying out! Parenting teens with attitudes can be challenging.
What is the best way to respond to smart-mouthed quips or rude gestures?
Before you jump to a hasty response, it would be helpful to consider that the teenage years:
- Are your child's first experience with hormonal surges
- Bring rapid and frequent growth spurts
- Require greater amounts of sleep
- Require greater amounts of nutrition, food and exercise.
- Represent your child's first attempts at social independence.
- Can be frustrating to your child (they are adapting to a changing body)
- Can be confusing to your child (as they respond to other's reactions to them)
What is happening? Where did your sweet child disappear to?
I don't want to suggest that disrespectful behavior is acceptable. It is not. But it is important to understand that now more than ever your teen needs a good behavioral model. Teens need to understand that you understand what is happening to them. They are looking for a way to handle their frustration and confusion. They are looking to you for guidance.
What is an appropriate response?
It is human nature to want emotion. But if we react to their outbursts with outbursts of our own, we will only have an out of control firestorm. "Love and Logic parents make it clear from the start that sassing does not result in an emotional response" (Parenting with Love and Logic pg. 219). Teens believe that loud disruptive emotion will get them the attention they crave. When teens act out, it is a time for parents not to be shocked, angry or confused, but rather to answer their loud emotion with a calm quiet assurance.
How do you defuse their outbursts?
Step I Regroup
- Remove them from your presence (let your blood pressure drop)
- Give them choice of room A or room B.
- Instruct them they can return when they can speak to you calmly and quietly.
- Instruct them with an calm, firm and reassuring tone of voice. (Their defiance suggests they are looking for loving secure leadership)
- If they say "I don't have to listen to you", you might reply with a firm request that offers choice, such as: "No one can make you listen. We are having a hard time listening to one another. I need for you to choose a place for you to quiet down (room a or room b) and I will do the same.
- Use a "broken record" routine. Keep repeating your request to get them to take a time out.
- You might set a timer so that they won't think you are just trying to get rid of them. When the timer goes off, reassess the emotional level of both yourself and your teen.
- "When tempers have cooled and words can be spoken without a flush of color coming to anybody's face, try to discover the child's reason for being disrespectful." (Parenting with Love and Logic pg. 220)
Step II Inquire
- Ask: "Am I hearing what you are saying, the way you are intending me to hear it?"
- Ask: What is it that you really want me to hear? Are you embarrassed? Angry? Hurt?
- Ask: Is there something you want to tell me?
Step III Discuss
- "Listen without being defensive.
- Listen without being judgmental.
- "Be ready to part ways again if you feel your emotions rising." ((Parenting with Love and Logic pg. 220)
- End with "Thank you for Sharing."
Step IV Instruct
- I understand that you were frustrated, but treating others disrespectfully is not the way to treat others. It hurts me and the other family members.
- If you need to talk and I am busy we could have a secret sign or look, so that I will know you need to speak alone with me.
- How would it make you feel to be answered with the word "huh"?
- I know that you are experiencing allot of change, but you are capable of keeping your body, your language and your emotions in control. I believe in you. You can be a good example.
Will a code of discipline or a calm approach help keep the defiant teenage years at bay? Probably not completely. But it will help parents teach teens better methods of self-control as their bodies grow into the young adulthood years.
What do you do to help your teen manage their behavior?
What are some phrases that you have successfully used to get your teen to talk?
Does your teens birth-placement within the family make a difference in how you respond to their defensive behavior? Should it?
by Linda Shaw
*Ideas and quotes for this post came from
"Parenting with Love and Logic" by Foster Cline MD and Jim Fay (pages 219-220)