Alternatives to Yelling at Your Teen

When our children are irresponsible, disrespectful or disobedient, it’s extremely difficult to stay calm. Teens especially seem to know just the right buttons to push to make us see red. Typically, when we get very angry, our normal reaction is to yell. Honestly, it can feel good to scream at the source of our frustration.

The problem with yelling at our children is threefold. First, when we lose our temper, we are showing our children that we cannot control our own emotions, which is scary for children, even teens. Second, we are role modeling bad behavior. We are demonstrating that the appropriate response to frustration is to have a tantrum. Teens are watching us all the time and mimic our behavior, and when we yell, we are communicating that yelling is appropriate behavior. Finally, yelling at someone only provokes more of the same behavior. If we yell, we escalate the situation. Teens calm down and communicate when they feel understood and accepted, none of which occurs in a screaming match.

Most of us know that we shouldn’t yell at our teens, but in the moment it’s hard to control and we aren’t sure what an effective response is to replace it. Today’s blog offers you some great suggestions. Some of these ideas are ways to keep yourself calm when you feel angry and some of these ideas are ways to foster connection with your teen to prevent some of those explosive interactions.

Ways Parents Can Calm Down When Angry

Address your own anger first. Get your emotions under control by trying one of these methods:

  • take a time-out – a 15-minute break can help you calm down and diffuse the anger
  • walk outside – anger is energy so try a physical activity to get that frustration out in a positive way
  • journal – writing down your feelings can help you gain perspective and control
  • practice a relaxation technique – count to 10, take slow deep breaths, close your eyes and think about a place that makes you feel calm, or repeat a calming word or sentence

Assume good intentions. Your kids probably aren’t trying to drive you crazy. Remember that if your teen is acting out, see it as a sign that they are having a hard time coping. Focus on how you can help them.

Pick your battles. Ask yourself if this will matter a year from now. Often, it won’t. Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worthy of your time and energy.  Think about what values you hope to instill in your teen and whether this issue is consistent with those values. Too many rules can overwhelm anyone, so have just a few rules and stick to those while letting the rest go. If you can let the small things slide, it increases the amount of peace in your home and also gets your teen to pay more attention when you are upset about the big things.

How to React When Your Teen is Angry

Empathize. Acknowledge your child’s frustration. You might say, ‘you weren’t expecting this, and it’s really disappointing.’ If you trivialize their feelings or tell them they shouldn’t feel a certain way, then they will feel misunderstood and either withdraw or yell. Try validating their feelings (“yes, it would hurt my feelings, too, if someone had done that to me”) until they calm down.

Ask a question. Try to approach the situation with curiosity. We all see the world differently, so try to understand how your teen thinks and feels about the situation at hand. If we listen in order to comprehend their viewpoint, your teen will be more willing to communicate. Besides, when you ask questions, the response your child gives may surprise you.

Notice your tone. Our teens feel the non-verbal aspects of our speech before they process our words. This means that if we use a negative tone of voice, our teens’ brains enter threat mode and they literally will not be able to listen to us.  

Consider your teen’s needs. When teens display big emotions, sometimes there are environmental factors at play. Are they hungry, exhausted, stressed? There’s no magic formula, so just allow yourself to wonder about what’s going on with your child. Perhaps their outburst is trying to tell you something.

Ways Parents Can Prevent Yelling in the Future

Practice self-compassion first. The people who yell at their kids the most tend to be the same people who berate themselves. We all have an inner critic, but some people’s critic is especially loud and harsh. So next time you’re having a hard time, take a deep breath and say to yourself, ‘I’m a good person who is having a hard time. I can get through this.’ When you offer compassion to yourself, it will start flowing out of you more naturally to your teens.

Search for behaviors to praise. While it can be hard to find things to praise when our teens aren’t acting the way we want, it’s important to find small things to notice. Teens are battered by negative messages from the media, peers, bullies, and school. If your teen is hearing everything that is wrong with them or everything they should “fix” – even if you meant that message with the best of intentions to help them – it will only ruin your teen’s self-confidence, and probably your relationship. Instead, find and share positive things about your teen. Perhaps set yourself a reminder each week to tell your teen something you admire about them or something they did that you appreciated. Praise your teen’s hard work any time they take initiative, don’t give up, or complete a task on time. Regardless of whether your teen responds to the compliment or not, the positive praise is bound to improve their spirits and make you feel happier as well!

Empower your teen with choices. The more you can give your teen agency to make a choice, the more cooperative they will be. No one likes being told what to do or how they have to do something, especially children who already feel so controlled a lot of the time.  Give choices that you can deal with and then let your teen know that you trust him to follow through on that choice.

Practice self-care. Self-care techniques are both fundamental for preventing stress before it strikes and for sustaining our equilibrium during hard times. Self-care isn’t a “nice to do when I have time” – it’s essential to your overall health and wellbeing. When we take a few minutes each day to do something we enjoy or brings us peace, we will be calmer overall and less likely to snap in stressful situations.

Final Thoughts…

Yelling feels easiest in the moment, but it will never get us the results we want. Unfortunately, yelling silences our youth and tears down their self-esteem. When we take the time to connect with our teens during calm moments and make a plan for how we will behave calmly in tough moments, we can use alternative methods to deal with our teens. And, if you mess up, be kind to yourself. Parenting isn’t easy.

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