How to Stop Fighting With Your Teen

Unless you like the drama…

Chances are you want to reduce the time you spend fighting with your tween or teen. 

Who here has found themselves in an hour (or more) long blow up over something that started out really, really simple?

Who here has found a topic or request that was really no big deal somehow got dragged out for days with tears, yelling, and doors slammed?

You aren’t alone. 

Yup, this drama is not something that is only happening in your home (phew). It is happening to parents everywhere. 

In the upcoming weeks I’m going to give you two really simple tips that can transform how you approach and handle conversations with teens. 

Use these two tips like a road map and you will find the tension de-escalates in record time. 

Today, we are going to go in depth on tip number one and next week we will go in depth on tip number two. 

Are you ready? These strategies are so ridiculously simple, you won’t even have to print them out and stick them on your fridge (but you can). 

To have better conversations with anyone, remember these two rules: 

1. Respond to fact with fact

2. Respond to emotion with emotion

That’s it. 

Ok bye now. Short newsletter today. 

Joking, you’re stuck with me a bit longer. 

Let’s explore tip number 1 further: 

The thing that gets us in big trouble is when someone states a fact (like a request, or a need, or even a thought or perception) and we have an emotional reaction to it. 

Why is this a problem?

It obscures the fact with a heavy weight that then needs to be waded through, justified, dismantled, and often ends with the original statement being forgotten or disregarded completely at the end. The person who made the statement ends up exhausted, defensive, and like they can’t speak up or have their needs met. They end up no longer making requests or stating their needs. A relationship becomes one sided and everyone ends up walking on eggshells. 

To be fair, it is usually tweens and teens who do this. We (parents/teachers/coaches) make a simple request, and they (tweens/teens) pile on the emotion and the request gets lost at the bottom of a deep pile of angst. And who gets to clean up and fold and put away that huge pile of angst? You got it – you do! Yay!!!

For example:

Fact: Hey, remember there is an event tonight and so I will need help making supper so that we can arrive in time. 

Response:OMG I can’t believe this. I had plans! Why do you always do this! ARGH. I’m so stressed, this is so unfair! No one else has to help with supper ever. You’re the worst. 

Cue hours long blow up that drains everyone of any energy they had left to even get through the meal. 

It is OK to have an emotional reaction to a statement, however the response needs to first be a fact to show acknowledgement of the statement: 

Fact:Hey, remember there is an event tonight and so I will need help making supper so that we can arrive in time. 

Response:You need help tonight making supper because there isn’t enough time. 

***(Do I expect your teen to respond this way? Nope. Can they? Yes. They will have to be taught. After we explore tip number two next week, I’m going to give you the lowdown on how to get them to do this and how they can still express their angst in a useful way while doing it) And yes, they do need to express their angst still. I will cover that too!***

Let’s try a reverse example. For fun, let’s give you a tween and a teen talking to you at once: 

Fact: 

Teen: Kelsey invited us all over to her house and I need the car. 
Tween: I need a ride to soccer though and also my project is due tomorrow and I’m supposed to have 3 objects from my family’s history to present so I need help finding stuff. 

Response: You’ve got to be kidding me! You’re just telling me this now? It’s due tomorrow? And I though you and Kelsey hated each other and now you’re friends? Wasn’t she mean to you last week and who do you mean “us all”? Who else is——

WOOOPS. Just gonna go ahead and interrupt that. 

Let’s try again shall we?

Response:You’ve been invited over to Kelseys and you need a way to get there. And you need a way to get to soccer, plus you need help with your project.

Ahhhh much better. 

I want you to visualize those two scenarios. In the top scenario, how do your tween and teen start reacting to your response? Are they agitated? Are they getting worked up? Defensive? Angsty? Worried? Pleading? Becoming dysregulated and saying things that sound like accusations, like “You never help me”, “You don’t get my friends”, “She always gets the car” etc.

In the bottom scenario as you simply state the facts, are they looking at you with calm focus simply waiting for your decision?

Here’s a tip: When you respond with a fact, it regulates the energy in the room and that is needed for when you need to offer a disappointing decision: 

Response:Unfortunately, I can’t provide permission for you to attend Kelsey’s tonight. I know that is disappointing but it is a final decision. I’m happy to discuss this more once I get back from dropping Jen off at soccer. Jen, I need to have more notice when you need help on projects like this. I will help you find one object  right now before soccer, but after soccer I’ll need you to find the other two. We can come up with ideas on the drive over. 

You will notice that even this response is pure fact. And that is key. Respond to fact with fact both in terms of acknowledging the request and in terms of how you decide to meet the request or not. Fact with fact. 

It will be tempting to add something like: I’m feeling overwhelmed and I have a lot going on tonight and can’t handle last minute requests. 

It sounds like fact, but it is emotion. Even though what you feel is true, it leaves the door open for someone to try and talk you out of what you are feeling and that is counter-productive and it undermines your assertiveness. 

(E.g. Why are you always so overwhelmed? Maybe you just need to take care of yourself more? It’s just a simple request it doesn’t take any energy just let me have the car. I can drive her to soccer see that will help you out!)

Can. Of. Worms. 

Notice the sneaky “I will drive her to soccer” plea? Now you are stuck in an argument justifying why she can’t go even though she has a “perfectly reasonable” solution. 

Respond to fact with fact in order to maintain your assertiveness and boundaries while diffusing what could be a tense situation. 

Join me next week as we explore tip number two: Responding to emotion with emotion. Hint: This does not mean scream back when your teen screams at you.