3 Ways to Stop Fighting with Your Teen
by: Jazmin Gutierrez
Adolescence is characterized by striving for independence during a stage in which the majority of their life is out of their control. Teenagers are frustrated by this, and often try to gain a sense of control in any way they can. Parents serve as the perfect target to project this frustration onto. So, while it can feel like your teen is always being defiant and challenging you, you’re probably right. And it probably drives you crazy. But whether you’d like to admit it or not, you as a parent hold as much responsibility in maintaining the conflict as they do.
Look, I know parenting teens is really hard, but remember the old saying, “It takes two to tango.” Every argument needs two people to participate. When you fight back with your teen, you’re actively choosing to continue the argument and inviting your child to try to overpower you. Your child is now at a level playing field with you because you agreed to argue. You may think that fighting back is a way to assert your dominance, but in reality, you’re allowing the opposite to occur.
You’re probably thinking, “What else am I supposed to do when my kid acts that way? I can’t just let my kid get away with disrespecting me!” While sometimes fighting back is what gets your kid to back off at the moment, it doesn’t serve much purpose in resolving the issues at hand and in the future. Consider how these three tips can help you stop fighting with your teen.
Manage Your Own Emotional Reactivity
When you blame your child for the reason you fight back, you’re really just admitting that your child can control you. If you don’t take responsibility for your own emotions, you are putting yourself at the mercy of your child. Hal Edward Runkel explains in his classic book, Screamfree Parenting, “Our biggest enemy as parents is not the TV, the Internet, or even drugs. Our biggest enemy is our own emotional reactivity.” You can make the decision to de-escalate your emotional response and stop the conflict from going any further. By growing in your self-awareness, you can learn how to regulate your thoughts and feelings.
Explore what triggers you emotionally and how you usually handle conflict in other relationships. Consider how you handle things that make you stressed, and how you could implement those skills during interactions with your teen. If you become frustrated, disengage in the fight, walk into another room to take a break and return when you are ready to throw yourself back in the ring! Think back to how your parents handled conflict with you as a teen. Reflect on how you could be repeating negative patterns within your own parenting. Try to figure out what your desired outcome is and if your current behavior is getting you there. Ask yourself, “Am I parenting from anger or responsibility right now? Am I trying to win or am I trying to solve the problem?’
Model the Behavior You want to See
If you’ve reached the point where you know that fighting with your teen is pointless and bringing upon more stress in your life, you don’t have to give up and surrender your role as a parent. There will always be something to fight about, but you can always have the choice to change the way you argue with your teen. You can be the one to set new standards for communication.
Some communication skills to consider would be reflective listening or pausing. Reflective listening requires you to listen to the other person to understand them, not just to talk back at them. This can be done by paraphrasing your child’s responses and asking clarifying questions throughout the conversation, which makes your child feel heard and respected.
For example, “What I’m hearing you say is ______. Is that correct?”
At other times, your child may be having too much difficulty managing their emotions to participate in a productive conversation with you. This is when pausing can be used, where you establish the expectation that you will not engage in a dysfunctional pattern of arguments and will return to the issue when you both can be responsible for your emotional reactivity. You can say, “We are both upset right now. Let’s pause for a moment and come back to this conversation when we’re ready.” The way you argue with your kid will influence how they handle conflicts in their future relationships. You can serve as a positive model for healthy communication.
Make yourself approachable
If the only time you interact with your child is through discipline, you’re missing an opportunity to build a connection that would make healthy communication more possible. Ask your teen about how they handle the stress of school and extra-curricular activities. Show interest in the tv shows they like or the music they listen to. Let them show you their favorite TikTok, you might just laugh together! Share your appreciation for the qualities that make them unique. When you notice positive behavior, compliment them on it.
Parenting requires you to pick your battles sometimes. If you’re always focused on making everything a “teachable moment,” you’ll decrease the likelihood of your teen actually listening to you when something is really important. When you become more approachable to your teen, they’ll be more willing to work with you towards conflict resolution. Together, you can decide what’s worth fighting about and what’s not.
When’s the last time you planned some time just to connect with your teen? Take this as a sign to step out of your normal day-to-day routine with the family, schedule something the both of you can enjoy together, and be proactive in strengthening your relationship with your child.