This post: Arguing with Your Teen? That’s When You Need to Love Them a Little Harder
Like a light switch, our kids go from being agreeable, easy-going kids who toed the line (for the most part, anyway) to feisty, independence-seeking teenagers who push our buttons and our boundaries at every turn.
At least that’s how it was with my kids.
My oldest daughter, especially, seemed hell-bent on defying me every chance she got. If I told her to go right, she went left. If I said up, she said down. The constant arguing and bickering was exhausting, to say the least.
At first, I fought her resistance tooth and nail… after all, I’m the parent. I’m the one who puts the rules in place. I’m the authority figure. She needs to listen to me.
But I quickly learned that when you’re parenting teenagers, you pretty much have to throw the old parenting rule book out the window and write a whole new one – especially if you want to build a strong connection with your teen, maintain respect and keep peace in the house.
That’s not to say I caved in or handed my daughter the reins to make my life as a parent easier. What it means is that I compromised and shared the reins with her so we could make the rules together – openly, honestly and respectfully. And, when I did, on those occasions when there wasn’t room for compromise, (sometimes you just have to say “no”), I found she was far more understanding and agreeable because she knew her voice mattered.
Let’s face it, we’re never going to agree with our teens all the time. We’ve taught our kids from an early age to discover and embrace their uniqueness which means we also need to accept the fact that their views, opinions and ideas won’t always align with ours… and, that’s not only something that should be expected, it should be celebrated!
They’re growing up, gaining independence and figuring out a few things on their own. They don’t need us quite as much as they once did and they don’t value our opinions as much as they once did. They’re becoming their own person.
Knowing that the “I’ll argue about anything” stage with our kids is actually a blessing in disguise (even if it doesn’t feel like it when we’re in the thick of it), how do we get through that stage in one piece with our relationship with our teens intact?
It starts by accepting the fact that conflict is inevitable, learning to manage conflict with them productively, and reminding yourself (over and over again) that conflict is quite often a sign that change is needed. Mostly, it means you need to love them a little harder – especially when emotions are high.
The next time your teen kicks up an argument, try showing a little empathy and grace while using these “calming” tactics to keep things on a productive and even keel.
Arguing With Your Teen? Love Them a Little Harder
Don’t Inflame the Situation
Studies have shown that because of the massive hormonal changes happening in our teen’s minds and bodies, they feel things in a much bigger way, which explains why they have a tendency to get emotional when disagreements arise. “You never listen to me!” “I never get my way!” “I hate how you always think you’re right!” But yelling and screaming won’t make matters better.
Regardless of how emotional, upset, aggressive or even downright mean your teen gets, don’t inflame the situation by chiming in. Tell them you’re happy to discuss the situation with them when they’re calm and respectful and then… walk away. Eventually, (perhaps not today or even next week), but eventually, your teen will realize that you’re not jumping on their emotional bandwagon.
I used to wonder if my kids’ brains were firing on all cylinders. The arguments they started, the requests they demanded, and the positions they took made me seriously question whether they were my children or whether some aliens took over their bodies. Still, regardless of how ridiculous their argument or request was, I gave them the floor and listened… I mean really listened.
The more I listened, the more I asked intentional questions and the more they felt I was truly trying to understand their perspective, the more logical their thinking (and argument) became. It’s almost as if they heard the words coming out of their mouth and realized how illogical they sounded. I found that all they really needed was a calm, supportive environment to get their point across less emotionally and more matter-of-factly, which spawned more civil and decent conversations, and smoother resolutions between us. They just needed to be heard.
Look at the Problem Methodically
The next time you and your teen strike up an argument, remember, it’s you and your teen versus the problem, not you versus your teen. Instead of getting wrapped up in “he said, she said” statements and allowing the situation to become inflamed to such a degree that nothing good can ever come of it, take a moment to analyze the conflict or problem and look for win-win solutions. Ask yourself these questions:
- What triggered the argument?
- Is this a one-time argument or an ongoing argument?
- Why is this bothering you or your teen?
- Is your/your teen’s frustration exaggerated or justifiable?
- How can you and your teen work together to fix the problem?
- What are some practical solutions to this problem?
- Is there a mutual agreement you can come to with your teen that will resolve the argument?
Take It On Neutral Ground
The next time you and your teen start arguing, ask them to go for a walk or a drive, grab a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or get lunch at their favorite restaurant. I’ve learned as a mom of three that arguments have a tendency to gain momentum in the comfort of our own home. When our kids (and us) are in a more relaxed environment, whether it be outdoors in the sunshine or at an upbeat restaurant, it always takes the pressure off and sets the tone for more rational conversation. (Plus, you’re both less likely to raise your voices in a public place.)
Agree to Disagree
Not all arguments or disagreements with our kids can be resolved. Sometimes, no matter what fierce stance our kids take (or how loud they get) we can’t say yes, agree with them or cave in.
We have to stand our ground – either because it conflicts with our family’s core values, it puts their health, well-being or safety at stake (or someone else’s), or simply because, as parents, we have a mountain of life experience under our belt and we see things our kids simply don’t see (yet).
In those instances, we have to sit down with our kids eye-to-eye, explain our thought process (trust me on this one, teenagers won’t buy into the “because I said so” answer), and help them try to see our perspective. (Heads up, sometimes, no matter how diplomatic you try to be, your teen will still fight you, and that’s okay. Having conflict with your teen doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent – it’s normal.)
Love ‘Em a Little Harder
It turns out that showing warmth and affection, even when our not-so-lovable, argumentative teenager doesn’t seem quite so deserving, can strengthen our relationship with them – especially in the face of conflict.
A new study from the Yale Child Study Center found that “parents can lessen the effects of inevitable conflict with their teens simply by showing them emotional warmth.” In other words, simply by extending our kids a little grace, offering them a hug when their emotions are high, staying calm in the face of conflict (even when they’re not), and expressing empathy when they’re riled holds the power to actually protect our kids from the cost of conflict and strengthen our relationship with them long-term.
It makes perfect sense, too, doesn’t it? I know when I argue with my husband, my kids or anyone else, I always want to feel as though our argument is secondary to our relationship, that we can get past it and that despite any disagreement we may have had, nothing will shake my love for them. And, that’s exactly the feeling we need to pass along to our kids.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
If you find yourself arguing with your teen far more than you were just a few years (or months) ago, don’t beat yourself up about it. Conflict with our teens is 100% inevitable and to be expected. It’s by no means a sign that you’re not getting this parenting gig right.
Rather than getting upset about the arguing, focus on how to argue more productively with your teen.
They’re watching everything you say and do and, whether you realize it or not, your behavior and words in the face of conflict are teaching your teen how to manage conflict later in life. Be the role model your teen needs. Teach them how to argue in a calm, respectful, productive manner so they can harness that skill and apply it in future relationships. Don’t worry, you got this!