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Responding to Angry Teens and Tweens

Last week we chatted about anger, aggression and over-reaction in our children

We looked at the ways we can respond to young children when they’re aggressive towards a sibling or friend.

This week we look at how to respond to older children – the teens and tweens, when they’re disrespectful to us

The tweens can come as a bit of a surprise…

We fully expect that they’ll flex their muscles in the teens, but you may have a child who’s eight, nine or ten and you’re getting some stomping up the stairs, banging doors or worse and you’re wondering whether that’s all come a bit soon.

Well, that’s perfectly normal. It’s a hormonal surge, coupled with some neural realisation that they’d like to experience more independence. And that anger can be a reaction to feeling limited.

in their minds – to injustice.

In our minds - to age appropriate limits.

Limits and expectations are boundaries.

Boundaries are a good thing - if they’re well thought through. So what do we do when they react poorly to those boundaries? When they overstep the mark?

Let’s look at the Soft Love approach first. If they are repetitively reacting to something, for example bed-time, then it’s worth taking a look at your boundaries and seeing whether there are some areas where you could compromise.

Not in the heat of the moment. And I don’t mean reward poor behaviour, but just see whether the root of their frustration has any grounds.

Spend time with them outside the flash point moments and ask them if there are some areas of family life they’re struggling with.

Be courageous

I know, I know, this feels really daring. We’ll you’re on the courageous mumma, so here's a little stretch...

It probably does feel like you might be opening a can or worms, but just because you’re asking courageous questions, doesn’t mean you’re obliged to grant every request. However you could ask them where they could see some compromise. They’re incredibly clever and without the extra stresses of washloads, shopping, cooking and a job, they can be quite clear thinking!

You might find yourself saying, "well, I can’t give you 'no' bedtime, but what if we move it up by quarter of an hour or half an hour? We can try that for a month And, as long as you stick to it, we can keep it there."

You could even talk about them being less reactive at bedtime. Sometimes feeling like they have some influence helps them to work with the boundary, rather than against it.

Or perhaps the issue might be that​​

  • they can’t go to town on their own,

  • get a dog

  • not tidy their bedroom

but maybe they’ve got some compromise ideas. I've found over the years what I think they’ll ask and what they actually ask for are quite different. Sometimes they just need a bit of wiggle room. Can I do my bedroom by this day rather than that day?

In an earlier podcast I talked about empathy*. This is a great place to keep that poker face and not over react if they do suggest something preposterous. All negotiations start with a bit of a cheeky bid.

If they have a good whinge about what it’s like being SO hemmed in, try to be empathetic. That’s their genuine opinion and you probably remember feeling the same once. So try to react calmly and objectively to their complaints. Because...

These moments are sacred!

They are the testing ground.

They many not know it, but they’re clocking whether you are big enough for their disappointments and frustrations, or whether you lose your cool. These are the reference points for them when the stakes get bigger later on. Can I tell mum or Dad? Will they be chill or will they have freak out?

It doesn’t mean you can’t have feelings about the catastrophies in their lives later on or the difficulties today. It just means that keeping a poker face. Making space for their feelings first will enable them to trust you.

Understanding doesn’t mean agreeing. It means understanding.

If you can’t offer them a compromise now, could you let them know what your game-plan is so they have some hope?

Also, if they are stomping up the stairs or banging doors, let’s remember they haven’t got many other options when they’re amped up.

We’ve got

  • Gin and tonic

  • Chocolate

Anger isn’t a bad emotion.

What they do with their anger is the issue.

Those two can get lumped together and a child can receive the message

"You’re not allowed to be angry!"

Well that’s not possible

It’s a healthy human emotion and if they’re not allowed to express it, it will either hide inside them and they’ll need to find a way to soothe it, or it will burst out of them.

Give them a valve...

Allow them to express it. But, put boundaries around how they express it.

  • Give them a pillow to punch or scream into.

  • Buy a punch bag.

  • Acknowledge that sometimes life feels really difficult and that anger doesn’t have to stay inside them.

  • Listen without judgement.

But anger doesn’t entitle them...

To hurt people

Or destroy things

If they’re damaging things, create a repayment system. Don’t undervalue your house because you don’t want more of their frustration. Walk it with them, gently but firmly.

What cues are you sending them?

A good question to ask ourselves, when our children are being disrespectful is “Have I displayed self-respect?”

We need to model self-worth in order for them to pick it up as a value.

Teenagers will act out of the experiences they have had up to that point in their lives.

In my book I talk about the effects of different styles of parenting.

In short, if they’ve experienced commanding parenting, they will want to respond in the same way.

commanding parenting is the "don’t do as I do, do as I say style."

The goal is that they follow through with the limit or expectation.

Or else!

In the long run, children of commanding parents often rebel when they get to the tweens or teensl. They’ve grown up in a culture of commands. They’ve learned that pushing and raising voices gets things done. So that’s what they begin to do.

(That said, just because your child raises their voice, doesn’t mean you’ve been a commanding parent.)

The other effect of commanding parenting is that children find secret ways to meet their preferences. This gnaws away at the integrity of the parent/child relationship because the child goes behind their parents’ backs. I imagine you could think of a few childhood friends where that happened.

Commanding parenting breeds decit.

It's disconnected.

The bigger issue is that they’ll tow the line, as long as you’re watching. What they do out of your line of vision could be a whole different thing.

They’re being trained to put on a good show in front of you. They’ve been coached on the outside, but not grown on the inside.

The commanding parent isn’t modelling self-worth. It might look like it, but there’s fear in the mix. Fear that...

  • gentleness might look like weakness

  • things won’t get done unless I command

  • that my children will make bad choices if I give them space

Another parenting style is where we’ve allowed the child to become the centre of the world. Kings or Queens of the home! Easily done when we love them so much.

But we can quietly send the message that they have more value than us. And in devaluing ourselves, we are disrespecting ourselves, and in time they will too.

Are you treating yourself with value?

Are you the

  • on-call

  • meet everyone’s needs

  • never mind about me

type parent?

If you feel like it, then the chances are you might be. It’s easily done. Life feels good when our children are happy.

I love happy kids and I love to support them. But there’s a gentle line in the sand that can get quietly erased and their needs can eclipse everything.

And then when they get into the teen years they behave out of that perspective.

And it’s easy to say...

"We’ll they’re teenagers, what do you expect?"

And that’s the big question:

What did you expect?

You might have a self-fulfilling prophesy there

The world will tell you

Teens are a nightmare.

That is not true.

We were really blessed to have some parents around us who had managed to enjoy the teens. I know my own mum loved our teens, so I came with an expectation that it was at least possible.

I went to those people to try to find out what they'd sown in.

If you haven’t seen it for yourself, then take it from me. These can be great fun years. Passion filled and explorative and sometimes explosive. But the opportunity for connection is not eliminated.

Be careful with the messages of the world…They’re not always right.

Take a look at the level of respect in the home:

  • How you treat yourself

  • how you make time for your own interests and friends

  • how you speak about yourself

  • how you let your children and others treat you

  • How you and your partner treat each other

  • How you treat and speak about your own parents

Raising teens isn’t just about the outcome in big moments it’s about the culture you're setting in the home.

In the end we’re still paying the bills and keeping a roof over their heads, so although we have the same value as them, we are charged with a little authority.

Someone has to run the home and they’re not ready.

We’re born to seek leadership. Let’s not erode that because we want their favour.

Also, how we behave towards them sets the culture for the home:

Try to keep the volume and tone at the level that you want to hear it back.

Strong parenting is not loud.

Gentleness is strength under control.

Raising your voice only sends the message that

They don’t need to respond until you’re

  • loud

  • angry

  • jumping around

  • rolling your eyes

  • threatening

  • huffing

Now, I want to concede here that we won’t get this right 100% of the time. We’re human. But aiming for a respectful volume and tone means we’ll get it right many times and build the muscle and get better at it.

It’s difficult to cover all scenarios, but lets take a few responses that could help when they’re being rude.

If they’re wanting you to concede to something by being rude, let them know, “We can chat about this when we’re both feeling calm.”

Do not engage when they’re at that level. Or soon you’ll be there too!

I’m particularly using the word ‘both’ because

  • It’s probably true

  • It avoids the accusatory word ‘you’

Because if you say 'you,' they’ll quickly tell you


Another expression I found helpful is "I love you too much to argue."

If they’re being abusive because they’re frustrated. You ask them to leave the room and if they won’t then you leave the room. Calmly. Not huff out of the room (tempting though).

The firmer you can be about this and the earlier you put it in place the easier it will be. But don’t back down just because they are bigger.

Hold your nerve

It may mean that dinner is late

Or you run late

(I realise if it’s a morning dispute and you’re trying to get off to work, that isn’t going to fly.

So in that scenario you may need to calmly finishing what you’re doing before you leave.

But let them know, you’re not coping with the tone or volume, but you’d love to hear what they have to say when you’re both feeling calmer.

You’re modelling self-respect right there.)

In most scenarios, they've removed themselves or you have and then it’s a case of coming back to it.

They wont be big fans of that. They’ve had their outburst and probably moved on. But the heart of this podcast is about connection. So, it’s good to come back to the conversation.

It won’t be long before they want or need something from you. Whether it’s a lift, a meal, an item of clothing they’ve lost or need to be cleaned.

I’m not suggesting we hold our parenting chores to ransom, but its not appropriate to carry on as though nothing happened.

Easier though that could be.

How about gently suggesting, that you’d like to come back to the dispute before I take you to

  • your sports match/club

  • your friends

  • the park

  • shopping

That way they know the time frame.

You’re not saying I need to chat with you right this second.

It may be that you prefer to say, before we leave I’d like to agree a time that we chat about it, that would give you a day to get to a calmer place. A bit of time and distance brings perspective.

But what will not help - is if it’s not addressed.

  • You’re modelling self-respect

  • You’re showing respect

  • You’re demonstrating that it’s healthy to talk things through.

They are living in a culture of de-friending. The world is telling them that if someone gets your goat, drop them, move on.

Relationships for life require the rough as well as the smooth.

They need to see that

  • conflict can be gentle

  • It can be resolved

  • They can survive the pain of facing their errors

We live in a shame culture.

Give them an opportunity to see that you’re big enough for this. They don’t need to carry shame from their behaviour, it can be resolved.

You may think they don’t carry shame. They've moved on. They're fine.

Don’t be fooled

unresolved issues have their price!

Listen to Brene Brown. Shame is a deeply rooted issue today.

So how do we resolve when we do sit down with them at our agreed time?

Well, first we listen.

“Tell me what you were thinking yesterday, this morning when…”

Nothing, I don’t want to talk about it.

“No, it’s hard to talk, but I’d love to hear what the problem is.”

Bringing this culture in is hard at first, but they will build the muscle of restoration and reconciliation when

  • you're patient

  • you’re unjudging

  • when you’re not going to take them to their friends until we talk

Understanding rather than agreement

And as they talk, try to make the goal of the conversation


Rather than


In fact, keep that in mind for all your disagreements with anyone. Particlarly your partner.

Let your child know that’s the game plan

“We might not see this the same way, but it would be good to understand each other.”

When you’ve heard them out, then let them know how it felt for you. What behaviour you’ll need to see in order to be able to listen to their unmet needs.

What words could be helpful when they're upset and frustrated. What approach will keep your connection in place.

This isn’t the moment to give it to them with both barrels.

This is time for you to share what it felt like.

"It was upsetting to be spoken to in that way."

"I find it hard to meet your needs when I’m shouted at."

"I find it hard to think when I’m being disrespected, it means I have to postpone my response to your need."

That’s all it’s all about.

Their unmet needs.

  • I need

  • to go out

  • to have a later bedtime

  • more money

  • more freedom

  • less homework

  • not to have to help around the house.

I need to do things on my terms and in my timing

Of course a better way of seeing it is an unmet desire, because they’re not really basic needs for survival. But they do feel like it to them in the heat of the moment.

So now I hear you say

But what about my resolution?

  • I’ve calmed down

  • Removed myself

  • Chatted with them

  • Restored peace

But the thing that caused all the grief in the first place is still there…

The fact that they werent’ respecting

  • Bedtime

  • Screen time

  • Mealtimes

  • boundaries

  • expectations

Well first to say, the aim of this podcast was dealing with the disrespect and their responses to anger. So that’s what we’ve majored on.

But I hear you, you want to keep the boundary in place without being commanding. You want to be authoritative and gentle.

Then I recommend consequences**. Not punishments


  • whipping away their tek

  • Stopping their allowance for a year

But putting in a well thought through logical consequence.

And they’re all laid out in Podcast seven here

All of this sits best in the context of having a bit of time with that child one on one – outside of the conflict moments. An intentional time with them about once a month just to spend time, to invest. No agenda, just time.

They’re at an age where they could convince you that they’re not that interested. Their friends are far more fun or at least more interesting!

But take this as fact. Your love, your attention and your input fills a longing in them that nobody else can. Even if they’re not in touch with it.

Hang in there, make time, take interest, hold back advice and send them the message that your relationship is important, even if the distractions of life feel more exciting for a few years.

  • Soft love

  • Strong love

  • Soft strong kids

Without a doubt, if you manage yourself and invest in them and put some well thought through consequences in place, you too will love the tween and teen years.

If you'd like to pop over and listen to the podcast on this, it's here See you there!

Love Mads

Any questions, feedback or thoughts, I’m easy to find…

If you've enjoyed this, you'll love the book Parenting For Life. And for you, my reader or listener - there's a 25% discount off the retail price. And that includes postage. Take a look here

*empathy. There's a great podcast on empathy here

consequences. Pop here for lots of explanation and examples on consequences

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