Recently, a parent explained that her son has what seems like an inexhaustible desire to fight. To prove a point. To make them see how they are right. I’ve heard this many times and though it feels terrible, this behavior can be understood from a developmental perspective. But we’re going to stick to the parent’s perspective in this post. It’s hard to be around someone with an appetite for conflict and remain calm. When parents are angry with their teens, blowing up feels so much better!
If this happening, chances are that most interactions are charged. You are probably in battle mode all the time. This means that everything has become an issue: grades, chores, attitude, communication.
Teens are trying to assert their independence and are passionate about doing so. For them, everything is heightened to a ten (again, their dang brains are to blame). They don’t yet understand the notion of picking their battles. If you want to know more about why, there are many great books that explain the teen brain. Ask for recommendations in the comments.
As an adult, you know that not everything is worth a fight. But in the day in, day out experience of parenting, there is a lot of wear and tear. While your teen are just getting warmed up for the next 45 minute yell-explanation, your resources are depleted by the rest of life. It’s easy to understand how you are getting to a 10 quickly.
It’s an unfair fight–one side has peak fighting energy, the other is weary and battle-tested.
The reality, which is easier to remember when you are not face-to-face with said yell-explainer, is that when you are angry, communication goes south. In a moment of calm, you probably regret talking to someone you love when you are angry. As the adult, you have to lead on this one. Like I said, teens have a lot of energy for their emotions and very little in the way of corralling those emotions.
When your angry, become aware of your body’s cues and take them
My suggestion to parents who are getting to a ten: a ten means you are angry. Anger is a strong emotion that you feel in your body. As you are coming to a boil, your physical body is reacting, indicating a shift in our emotional state.
Everybody feels anger in different place. Some people experience an increase in their heart rate while others feel a knot in their stomachs, and others feel a tightening in their throats. If you know where your place is, memorize it. As in, right now, say aloud, “When I get angry, my throat tightens.”
If you’re still with me, now it’s time, in your calm place, to come up with a go-to line to express that you need a break from the conversation because you are getting angry. Again, you know this because you are going to become more aware of your body, which is telling you that, oh yeah, it’s on.
Come up with a go-to line for when you are angry
This came up recently at one of my workshops. One mom shared a line that she and her daughter use to stop the conversation before it gets out of control is “The light is yellow right now, so I’m going to step away.” I love it because you can deliver it calmly and it clearly communicates that we are going to have to come back to this.
Another go-to line that is helpful to communicate the need for pause, “I can feel myself getting angry. Let’s continue this conversation when I’ve calmed down.” This works on two levels: you are pausing the conversation, but you are also teaching your teen to identify emotions and table conversations until those emotions are manageable.
The next time your teen is picking a fight, and you feel your throat tightening, it means you are on the way to a 10. PAUSE. And use your line.
Teens have an strong desire to be heard and understood. This can translate into some serious yelling matches to prove a point. When someone is getting heated about every little thing, it’s easy to jump in the ring and get your fight on. But parents, your job is to become of when this is happening for you. Anger is an emotion you can physically feel coming on. If you’re feeling it in your body, I suggest coming up with a go-to line that communicates to your teen: Let’s table this before I blow up. You accomplish two things in doing so: you end the battle before it escalates, and you model that when you’re angry is no time to “talk.” Your teen doesn’t know it yet, but this skill is something her future self with thank you for.