Does this sound familiar? You’ve told your teen she can’t go out with her friends this Friday because she came in past curfew last weekend. There’s been a huge fight where one—or both of you—lost control and screamed at each other. Now the tension in the house is unbearable. Your child is irritable and argumentative—or sullen and moody—and you’re walking on eggshells around her in order to avoid a repeat performance.
“Don’t keep discussing the fight. Move on so the elephant can move out.”
To put it mildly, adolescence can be a rocky time between parents and teens. After all, our perspective on life is very different. Often, teenagers try to be invisible because they feel like all eyes are on them constantly. Perhaps they want to buy the newest fashion trend so they can fit in and look like everyone else. Their thoughts and behaviors revolve around dealing with their reality. Parents, on the other hand, are focused on more practical concerns. They’re thinking about things like, “How are we going to have enough money for college?” or “What can I do with my kid who’s more concerned about fitting in than her test tomorrow?” When your teen asks to buy an expensive pair of jeans or some other fashion item that she “has to have,” you may get worked up and think, “I just bought her a new pair of sneakers and now she wants something else? She doesn’t do anything to help around the house, but she’s always asking for more, more, more.” Your child wants something, you say no, and then come the fights, disagreements and hurts—and tension grows in the relationship.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just as there are ways to avoid blowout fights, there are also ways to avoid the animosity and tension afterward. I want to say very clearly that it’s normal to feel upset after a fight with your teen. It’s also important to remember that each person deals with the aftermath of an argument in their own way.
Here are 7 steps towards defusing the tension.
Give yourself and your child the space needed to gain back equilibrium. Tolerate the tension without feeling that you have to get your teen feeling good about you again, or that you need to get her out of her funk and negativity. Don’t be needy by wanting her to be okay with you immediately. It’s important to deal with your own feelings after the fight without needing your child to validate you.
The fight is over and you’re glad. But you now feel an icy silence in the room. Or maybe there’s irritability and continued open conflict over seemingly nothing. Recognize that these are the aftershocks of the earthquake. Your job is to sit with it and breathe. Don’t feel like you have to get rid of the distress immediately. If you can tolerate the tension without having a knee-jerk reaction to get rid of it, then you can give yourself some time and space to think. Ask yourself, “Why is this tension here—and is it best to leave it alone or address it in some way?”
There are many possibilities for tension after a fight. Think about what it might be for you.
Whatever the reasons, it’s natural to have some tension between the two of you after an outburst. Sometimes you’ll feel the effects for weeks. Once you think it through and own your contribution to the tension, you’re ready to either let it go, or address it with your teen.
If your teen hurt you with verbal attacks, it’s okay to tell her you were hurt by her words and actions. It may take you a while to feel like engaging with her again, and that’s okay.
Remember that not everything needs to be addressed all the time. For example, if you feel you’re in the clear and that you did nothing other than set a limit, you don’t need to apologize or re-open the discussion. Don’t change your mind in order to defuse the tension. Nothing more needs to be addressed other than an empathetic statement like, “I wish the circumstances were different and I could have allowed you to go out with your friends. But that isn’t the case this time. I know how much you wanted to go and I’m sorry for that.” Allow your child her feelings of disappointment or frustration—and work to tolerate your own feelings of guilt and discomfort. Remind yourself that those feelings are temporary.
If you did say “yes” to avoid further conflicts, but now feel a resentment towards your child, take responsibility for your feelings. Say something like, “I noticed I’m feeling tense because I gave in to your demands and now I’m resenting you for that. I realize that’s not fair to you. Next time I’ll say ‘no’ and not give in to please you. It leaves me resentful and that’s not fair to you or to our relationship.”
If you sense that your child is trying to provoke you by using guilt or the silent treatment in order to “change you back” to the way you were before you started setting healthy boundaries, just let it be and don’t give it legs. Nothing needs to be addressed. You haven’t done anything wrong. Just disengage and the tension will eventually defuse itself.
On the other hand, if you recognize that you lost control during the blowout, apologize for your behavior and any hurt you caused. Don’t use the word “but” when you apologize; in other words, don’t say things like, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you were making me crazy.” Just keep it short: “I’m sorry for losing control.” Address what needs to be addressed, learn from it so you can do better next time and then let go and move on. And if nothing needs to be addressed, just disengage.
If your child is giving you the silent treatment, you don’t have to join in. Speak to her anyway if you feel ready to engage—without being mad at her if she is not. Even though you may not get an answer from her, you can say, “Boy, it doesn’t sound like you’re ready to talk to me yet.” And then just go on about your business.
Sometimes parents can hold grudges. They may feel disgusted and angry by something their child did and so they hold onto that anger. How do you know if you’re holding a grudge unfairly? I think you just have to keep checking in on yourself and take responsibility for what you’re feeling. If the fight is over and you find yourself simply wanting to give your child the cold shoulder, or you’re picking on her and being critical for no reason, those are signs you’re not finished—there are some unresolved feelings there. This is why it’s so important to acknowledge that there’s tension in the first place. So check in with yourself, see how you’re acting, and observe what you’re doing. Think about why there’s tension, and then address it if it needs to be addressed.
Don’t try to get rid of your child’s negative feelings by discounting them or trying to cheer her up when she’s still mad. Also, don’t argue about who was right or wrong. I think many parents sense tension when they know their kid is mad at them and they try to make it better by pretending nothing happened or by being falsely cheerful—but they only end up making matters worse. This is actually needy behavior. When you feel bad and want everything to be okay—and you don’t let your teen have the space to get back on her own feet—it’s not fair to her. Instead of doing that, try saying, “I know you feel angry after our fight. So do I. When we both feel better, I hope we can talk about it and then move on.” Don’t keep discussing the fight. Move on so the elephant can move out.
Related Content: How to Walk Away From a Fight With Your Child
How to Stop Fighting with Your Child: Do You Feel Like the Enemy?
For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.
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Thank you for reaching out. I can hear how distressed you are that you're not able to stay calm when your kids are acting out. This is a common challenge for parents. It can be hard to keep your cool in the face of verbal disrespect and abuse. We have several articles that offer tips for how to stay calm as a parent. You can find those articles here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/parenting-strategies-techniques/calm-parenting/
In regard to the physical abuse you are experiencing, it's important to have firm boundaries around that. As James Lehman explains in his article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/when-kids-get-violent-theres-no-excuse-for-abuse/, there is no excuse for abuse. We have several articles that focus on this difficult topic. You can find those here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/child-behavior-problems/abusive-violent-behavior/
We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.
My husband did not set any or would not allow any boundaries so my daughter started doing things that were very upsetting and disrespectful
This caused a lot of conflict with her and I and she believed she should be able do whatever she wants without question. We got into arguments and she blames me and says she should be allowed to do whatever she wants and is now angry towards me. What can I do ?
We hear from lots of parents who share similar distress over not being on the same page as their co-parent. We have several articles that offer helpful tips for what you can do: https://www.empoweringparents.com/search/parenting+differences
Thank you for reaching out. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.
Thank you for reaching out. I can understand your concern. Granted, you daughter is an adult so she does have the right to make her own choices. As the parent of an adult child, you determine whether or not you will continue to support those choices. WE have several articles on parenting adult children you may find helpful: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/ages-and-stages/adult-children/.
We appreciate you being part of the Empowering Parents community. Take care.
I have 2 daughters, 14 and 13, and one 11 yr old son. My middle child - my 13 year old and I can hardly go a couple days without a fight. She often misinterprets what is said as some sort of challenge or criticism, when it absolutely is NOT. I feel like anything I say is wrong. My other two children have called her out of control, but she is just highly sensitive and emotional. She has 0 confidence in anything - academics, looks, everything. She has this issue with everyone, really, including her boyfriend (yes, I realize she’s only 13 almost 14 but they are really great together and he “gets” her. Been close almost a year) and many “past friends”. She is GORGEOUS and people tend to gravitate to her (especially male), but she can be very mean to those closest to her - her family and bf (who, naturally is her closest friend). She and I are very close but also fight hard usually bc I ask a question or bc there is miscommunication or misunderstanding. She constantly needs things - clothes, beauty products - and cannot be by herself. She has adhd but doesn’t like the meds, so I don’t force it since she *can* function. It’s just her moods... yikes, especially when around her period. So much so that I put her on birth control to mitigate some of the moodiness (and, let’s face it, other reasons too).
I cry all the time, and so does she. She is unreasonable sometimes. I feel crazy! She tells me I am. Do I just need to stop reacting to her? Sometimes I feel like I’m scared of her.
We appreciate you writing in to Empowering Parents and
sharing your story. I am sorry to hear about the issues you are having with
your mom. Because we are a website aimed at helping people become more
effective parents, we are limited in the advice and suggestions we can give to
those outside of a direct parenting role. Another resource which might be
more useful to you is the Boys Town National Hotline, which you can reach by
calling 1-800-448-3000, 24/7. They have trained counselors who talk with kids,
teens and young adults everyday about issues they are facing, and they can help
you to look at your options and come up with a plan. They also have
options to communicate via text, email, and live chat which you can find on
their website, http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/
We wish you the best going forward. Take care.
I am sorry you and your mom are having these conflicts. It’s
not uncommon for parents and teens to disagree on how much privacy the teen
should have. While it may seem over reaching to the teen, from a parent’s
perspective, it usually is more about trying to protect their child from harm.
I can hear how upset you are with how things escalated between you and your
mom. It can be tough to know what to do after an argument. We are limited in
the advice we are able to offer you because the focus of our website is on
helping parents develop more effective ways of addressing acting out behavior.
There is a website that offers support for teens and young adults – http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/. This is a
website developed specifically to help young people who are facing challenges
in their lives. It is staffed with counselors specially trained to work
directly with teens on developing strategies for working through difficult times.
They offer support in many different ways – by phone, e-mail, text, and online
chat. You can call them 24/7 at 1-800-448-3000 or visit them online at http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/Pages/home.aspx.
I appreciate you writing in and sharing your story. I hope you will reach out
to this valuable service and share your story with them. They are in the best
position to help you find solutions to the problems you are facing. Best of
luck moving forward. Take care.
Many parents describe similar challenges where a teen seems
to do well outside of the home, yet when asked to do something at home, it is a
completely different scenario. As Sara Bean describes in her article http://www.empoweringparents.com/angel-child-or-devil-child-does-your-childs-behavior-change-from-school-to-home.php, acting out
at home can have big payoffs for kids and teens in terms of gaining
power. Something that can be helpful in a situation like this is for you
and your husband to http://www.empoweringparents.com/My-Blended-Family-Wont-Blend-Help-Part1-How-to-get-on-the-same-page-with-your-spouse.php about your expectations and how you will respond
effectively if he is not meeting those. Once you are in agreement, you
can talk with your son about the rules, and how you will hold him accountable
if he is not following them. For example, you might set a rule that there
is no verbal abuse, and if he becomes verbally abusive, he will lose his cell
phone until he can go for 3 hours without being abusive. I recognize how
difficult this must be for you; please be sure to check back and let us know
how things are going for you and your family. Take care.
my wife and my daughter argue over small thing and they always escalate into screaming arguments...I try and stay away, but most time get pulled into the full blown cat fight..I feel like I have to take sides and stop the fighting to get them communicating... because it always seems like one started it or one continues to escalate it... nether of them can successfully stop the fight... and it will linger for days / weeks...
Is it wrong to try and stop the fight ?
Is it wrong to take an 18 years old side over their mother if I think the mother is wrong ?
Is it wrong to reverse of not enforce restrictions I think were placed by spouse over a fight they started or escalated ?
It can be
difficult when you are constantly being pulled into arguments between your wife
and daughter, and feel like you have to take sides. While it’s normal to
want peace in your home, keep in mind that by continuing to act as a referee or
take sides in arguments between your wife and daughter, it may actually make
fighting more likely in the future. We also encourage trying to present a
united front with your wife as much as possible. This does not mean that
you cannot disagree with your wife, or how she chooses to address a
situation. Instead, we recommend addressing these disagreements in
private during a calm time. Debbie Pincus has more information on this in
another article, http://www.empoweringparents.com/when-parents-disagree-10-ways-to-parent-as-a-team.php. Thank you for writing
in; please be sure to check back and let us know how things are going for you
and your family. Take care.
Thank you for writing in. As you noted in your email
to your daughter, we all say hurtful things out of anger that we don’t mean
from time to time. By sending her an http://www.empoweringparents.com/blog/accountability-and-responsibility/should-you-admit-you-are-wrong-to-your-child/, you are taking steps to move forward past this incident,
and focusing on where you have control. The next steps are ultimately up
to your daughter because at 18, she can decide where she wants to live, whether
that is with you, her father, or on her own. You also can’t “make” her
talk to you. You can really only control yourself, and your own actions
by taking responsibility for yourself and doing what you can to keep the doors
open to communication with her. Another part of this process can also
include focusing on taking care of yourself. Your self-care plan can be
anything you wish, from calling a supportive friend or family member when you
are feeling stressed, to engaging in an activity you enjoy. You might
also think about what you might want to do if your daughter decides not to keep
the original plans for Mother’s Day. I realize that there are no easy
answers here, and I appreciate your reaching out to us for support.
Please be sure to check back with us and let us know how things are going for
you and your daughter. Take care.
RebeccaW_ParentalSupport Thank you for your quick response. I am having a very difficult time of "letting go", waiting for her decision, and giving space. What else is there to do, just wait? Her father is not being helpful. We have been separated for 10 months, which has been difficult, but in the last few months, my daugher has been speaking to me about her feelings and I felt like we were just beginning to get settled.
I did send an additional email that said the following: Do I just leave it at that?
"I’m sorry for saying the comments about friends and prom. It was a horrible comment to make when I was angry, hurt, and frustrated.
I know you feel angry and hurt after our fight. So do I. When we both feel better, I hope we can talk about it and then move on."
Thank you for checking back with us. You are not alone
in feeling that this is the hardest part: the waiting and giving your daughter
space to calm down and respond. It is crucial, however, that your
daughter (and you) has the time and space needed to calm down, so you can talk
about what has happened in a neutral, objective way and make a plan for how to
move forward. I encourage you to use this time to focus on taking care of
yourself, as well as thinking about how you might handle a similar situation in
the future in a more effective way. I understand how challenging this can
be, and I hope that you will continue to check in with us. I wish you and
your daughter all the best moving forward.
What if it is the same situation but w/a 16 yr.old instead of 18? I haven't seen or talked w/my daughter since Sat. & it's Wed. My fight got more physical she punched me in the face & I had to push her off. She called me a cu*t, B, psycho, & went on to say that I was just mad @ her dad for divorcing me. The fight started because we were arguing, she told me to"calm the "F" down". So my fiance told her to "knock that shit off". She erupted by telling him to "f off". Said she hated it here & was never coming back. Then more happened after that.please help. I don't know what to do & my heart is broken. She has never sd things like this before & we just back from a wk. @ Crater Lake.
It can be really challenging to
try to move on from an argument when your teen has left the home and refuses to
speak with you. As long as your daughter is in a safe place, it can be
useful to take some time for both of you to cool off and calm down from your
argument. Once you are calm, it can be helpful to reach out to her via
phone, text, email or other private forum and let her know that you want to
talk with her about what happened. If you do not know where your daughter
is or if she is in an unsafe place, I recommend contacting the police to see
what kind of assistance they might be able to offer you in returning your
daughter to your home. I recognize that this is a difficult situation, and I
also encourage you to follow my advice to the original commenter about focusing
on taking care of yourself at this time. Please let us know if you have
any additional questions; take care.
I think it is awesome that you would like to take steps to
improve the current situation with your dad. Not getting along with a parent
can be tough to handle. I’m glad you have decided to reach out for help. Since
we are a website focused on helping parents develop more effective ways of
addressing their child’s behavior, we are a bit limited in the advice we can
offer. There is a website, however, that may be able to offer you help and
guidance. Your Life Your Voice is a website aimed at helping teens and young
adults deal with challenges they are facing in their lives. It is staffed by
specially trained counselors and offers many different ways of accessing
services. They have an online forum and chat, e-mail or text support, and also
a call in Helpline. You can access them 24 hours a day by calling
1-800-448-3000. You can also visit them online at http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/Pages/home.aspx.
I encourage you to check out the site to see what they have to offer. Good luck
to you and your father as you work through this challenge. Take care.