This post: How to Walk on Eggshells Like a Pro: 10 Ways to Stay Chill When Your Teen Isn’t
Co-written by: Morgan Hill & Nancy Reynolds
If you’re a parent of teens, you’ve likely become masterful at walking on eggshells. One minute our kids are walking around the house with their AirPods humming their favorite song and the next, something (or nothing) sets them off, and BAM! Enter their crummy mood, snarky comebacks, or worse, their temper…
Heavy sighs, eye-rolls, sassiness, and slamming doors…while you’re treading lightly to avoid stoking the flames of your teen’s emotions, you can’t help but wonder, “What triggered it?” “How long will it last?” “How bad will it get?” “Do I jump in to help calm them or back away slowly?” “How much leeway do I give them if they become rude or disrespectful?”
One of the trickiest parts about dealing with our kid’s swinging emotions is keeping ours in check. Rather than jump on their emotional roller coaster, it’s far better to approach the situation with a heaping dose of patience, empathy, and composure (and maybe a big glass of wine).
When your teen is moody, rude, disrespectful, ranting about something that has them fired up, or just plain out of control, here’s how to walk on eggshells like a pro along with a few things you can do to stay chill when your teen isn’t.
How to Walk On Eggshells Like a Pro: 10 Ways to Stay Chill When Your Teen Isn’t
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First, Keep This in Mind:
- Your teen’s behavior is a reflection of them, not you. You can control a lot of things, but controlling their ever-changing moods isn’t one of them.
- You may not be able to control your teen’s behavior or reactions, but you can always control yours.
- Try not to take it personally. Your teen’s brain and body are under massive construction, much of which triggers unstable emotions. Don’t take ownership of them.
- Your job is to help your teen learn how to express their anger or frustration in healthy ways. Yelling or “fighting fire with fire” isn’t setting the example they need.
- Behind the eye-rolls, heavy sighs, slamming doors, and even disrespectful or rude behavior is a teen who needs you.
- It won’t be this hard forever… focus on the big picture.
- Scream at the top of your lungs if you must, but not at your teen. Find healthy ways (like taking a walk or a drive), to release your frustration.
1. Pay Attention to Patterns in Your Teen’s Behavior
According to Laura Kastner, Ph.D., co-author of “Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens,” The first thing to do is look at patterns in your teen’s behavior. Is it an overarching issue where your teen is frequently disrespectful or loses their cool that requires intervention or is it a temporary situation where their attitude got the best of them? If the situation is isolated, you might want to give them a free pass. If it’s continual, action needs to be taken.
2. Ignore Antagonistic Arguments – It Takes Two to Argue
“During adolescence, rudeness surfaces for so many reasons that it seems an inevitable part of the age and stage. It’s what you might get if your teen is having a bad day, if they’re frustrated because you’ve asked them to do something, if they’re stressed, or if you’re just you and they’re tired of it!” says Kastner.
Remember, it takes two to argue. When your teen “baits you” by trying to push your buttons (which teens have a tendency to do), don’t take the bait. No reaction is sometimes the best reaction.
3. Be Specific About What You Won’t Tolerate
What sends you over the edge the most? Is it when your teen yells? Is it when they slam a door? Is it when they roll their eyes or say, “Whateveevvverr” when you ask them to do something?
Take a moment to contemplate what you simply won’t tolerate and convey it specifically and directly to your teen along with the consequences they’ll face if they break your rule.
“I get you have bad days, we all do. But I will not tolerate it when you slam your bedroom door. If you continue to do it, I’ll be taking away car privileges (or another consequence).” Bottom line, your peace is important. Stand your ground and don’t allow your teen to manipulate you.
4. Face It Head On
The way you respond to your teen’s rudeness, disrespect, or outbursts absolutely influences whether or not it will continue. So, while it’s okay to let some behavior go or give your teen a free pass every now and then, it’s never okay to brush off continued blatant disrespect and rudeness. Instead, face it head-on.
“Your response was uncalled for. Do you want to try that again?” Or, “I’m happy to listen to you when you can speak to me respectfully.” Or, “If you continue, you won’t be going to your friend’s house Friday night like you planned.” Just be sure to follow through.
5. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
What’s angering or upsetting your teen might seem trivial or unreasonable to you, but teens (because of their still-developing brains) feel things in a much bigger way. Try to remember what it felt like to be a teenager and try to imagine how you would feel if you were in their shoes. Sometimes, stepping back and looking at the situation from their perspective can help you empathize with what they’re going through and, in turn, help you respond more compassionately.
6. Express How You Feel
Teenagers don’t always pay attention to how their behavior impacts others. Your teen might not even realize how their words or reactions are impacting the family or hurting you. Talk to your child when you’re both calm (typically a neutral ground like a restaurant or coffee shop where an argument can’t erupt) and express your feelings calmly.
“Listen, I know you were upset. And, that’s okay. You’re allowed to be upset. It’s how you treated me and the rest of the family that was (disrespectful, mean, uncalled for, etc.). I’ll always listen to what you have to say and I’ll always be here for you. But your delivery, response, and behavior will always impact my reaction. Together, we need to work on how you manage your frustration/anger.”
7. Moods, Conflict, Attitude… It’s All SO Normal
So often, parents automatically assume that because their teen is pushing back or there’s suddenly conflict in the relationship their teen is being disrespectful or that they must be doing something wrong as a parent. They also get blindsided when their happy-go-lucky kid turns moody, sassy, or antagonistic. But it’s SO important to recognize (and remember when you’re at your wit’s end) that it’s all very normal.
Your teen is going through huge changes internally and their desire to break free from your grip is strong. They’re essentially trying to re-negotiate the relationship with you so it’s more on their terms and less on yours. The trick is to find a middle ground. Remember too, it’s important to give up some power AND be willing to compromise with your teen. You’re not always right. Let them have a voice in the relationship – if they make a case and it makes sense, be willing to change.
8. Give Your Teen the Chance to Self-Regulate
We’re moms and dads… we’re SO used to fixing everything. But our kids’ moods don’t always need fixing. You don’t always have to ask them what’s wrong, what happened, or why they’re being so grumpy. Ask them if they want to talk about it. If they decline, let them be.
Let them know you’re there and then give them time and space to work through it themselves.
What they need is understanding, empathy, a listening ear if they’re accepting, a big hug (again, if they’re accepting), and a batch of warm chocolate chip cookies (or their favorite snack). Give them the freedom to learn a powerful skill they’ll carry with them through life – self-regulation.
9. Ask, “What Can I Do To Help?”
At times, your teen’s moods, behavior, or harsh responses won’t seem to have any bearing at all. Other times, if you dig deeper, you might find an underlying reason. Maybe they had a fight with their friend or got wind of the fact that they were excluded from an invite. Sure, little things can set your teen off, but don’t assume it’s always “them in one of their moods again.”
Instead, ask them what you can do to help. Maybe they’re overwhelmed and taking something off their plate could help them breathe easier. If they’re simply in a crummy mood (and can’t explain why) just having someone on their side to help them work through it AND validate their feelings might be all they need to hit the reset button.
10. Love Them At Their Worst
According to a new study, the key to making our kids feel loved is to be persistently warm, even in conflict. Psychologist, John Coffee, and his colleagues surveyed more than 150 teenagers (ages 13-16) and their parents for a period of 21 days. Every evening, teens would complete a survey about the “warmth” and “conflict” in their relationship.
Interestingly, the study found that even on those days when conflict was high between parents and their teens, if the parent responded with warmth, compassion, and understanding, the teen was far more likely to say “They felt loved that day.” In essence, the key to keeping the bond strong with your teen and making them feel loved is to love them at their worst.
Final Thoughts: Keep the End Game in Mind
You won’t have to walk on eggshells forever. Eventually, your teen’s moods will settle and life will become less unpredictable. Just remember, your teen really needs you right now and the goal is to get through this tumultuous time in their lives together and come out stronger than ever on the other side.
About Morgan Hill:
Morgan Hill is an essayist and humorist. She has written for many online and print publications including Insider, Your Teen Magazine, Revel, and MASK Magazine. She is the mother of freshman and senior sons in high school. When not writing, she can be found at flea markets, in her garden, photographing architecture, taking cooking classes, or eating the stinkiest cheese she can find. You can also find her on Twitter @MorganHWrites or Instagram @MorganHillWriter