When your teen is angry and screaming at you, the temptation for many of us is to fight back and scream louder so you “win” the argument. But what does that do? It’s natural to want to push back or stand up for yourself if someone pushes your buttons or provokes you in some way. We often unknowingly internalize this message and it becomes a parent’s mantra: “I’m not going to let my own child walk all over me.”
In addition to prolonging the argument—and encouraging your child to keep it going—yelling back also means that you’re giving up your power.
The temptation to yell or fight back is so great that it can feel nearly impossible to resist. Yet giving in to that temptation can be quite costly in ways you probably didn’t realize. When you yell or scream back at your child, it simply challenges him and effectively “ups the ante.” To put it another way, it escalates the argument. Not only that, but it keeps the fight going longer—the more you try to “win” and come out on top, the more your child fights back, so the louder you yell, and then he starts throwing things… When does it end?
Understand that in addition to prolonging the argument—and encouraging your child to keep it going—yelling back also means that you’re giving up your power. You and your child are now on the same level; you’re equal. You are engaging in the same exact behavior and as long as you do that, you’re only going to get more of it from your child time and time again. By bringing you down to his level, your child gains the perception that he’s in control because he can make you lose control by getting you angry.
First and foremost, it’s important to realize that even though adolescents might engage in adult-like behaviors or try to act like adults, they do not have the brains of adults. The brains of adolescents are still developing, and they continue to do so into their early to mid-twenties. That considered, it does not make sense to really expect children to act like we do as adults. In fact, kids often perceive things in a very different way than we do, in part due to faulty or distorted thinking. The danger comes in when they use this distorted thinking to justify or rationalize their angry behavior.
In the Total Transformation Program, James Lehman identifies several different kinds of faulty thinking that kids experience. Keep in mind that faulty thinking is not something someone engages in intentionally. Rather, these are automatic thoughts, like “It’s not my fault that I broke the door. I was mad at my brother.” Or, “My teacher’s a jerk. Why should I do what she says?” If you pay attention to your own thoughts, I’m sure you’ll find that you experience faulty thinking from time to time as well, because it doesn’t just occur in children—we all do it.
Yell, curse, or name-call: There’s no excuse for abuse—not by your child and not by you. In the same way that playing the victim role is no excuse for your child to abuse someone else, your child abusing you does not excuse your yelling, cursing, or name-calling. Being verbally abusive to your child only makes things worse, both in the short-term when the argument escalates, and in the long-term when your child’s behavior doesn’t change and your relationship becomes strained.
Threaten with consequences: It’s always most effective to avoid threatening your child with specific consequences in the heat of the moment. For example, saying, “If you don’t stop, I’m taking your computer for 3 days” is not likely to get your child to suddenly stop yelling and retreat to his room. Instead, it will upset your child even more and keep the argument going. What’s more effective is to say, “If you choose not to go to your room and calm down, there will be a consequence later” and then walk away.
Attempt to control your child: This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for parents. We hear from parents every day who, without realizing it, are trying to control their children. I think this is due, in part, to some common confusion about accountability and what that really means. Holding your child accountable does not result in a child who is obedient 100 percent of the time. It does not mean that your child will always choose to follow the rules even if you give him consequences consistently when he misbehaves. Accountability means that you set the rules and the limits, and you provide a consequence when your child decides to break the rules—period. The goal is not to prevent your child from ever breaking the rules. You’re not a puppeteer; you’re a limit-setter. Let your child make his own choice. Limits and rules were literally made to be crossed and broken because that’s how we, as humans, learn about consequences and accountability.
Another way to look at accountability is this: If your child doesn’t follow the rules, someone will find out and there will be a “price” to pay, a “cost” for his poor choice in the form of the temporary loss of a privilege he enjoys. When a child experiences this unpleasant outcome, he can use that information to help him think about things next time he is considering breaking the rules. He’ll learn to ask himself, “Is it worth it?” as he is making his choices in the future.
Get physical: This often goes hand in hand with trying to control your child. Your child didn’t turn the X-box off when you told him to, so you try to take the controller or the console itself in the heat of your argument when everyone’s emotions are running high. Or, your child threatens to leave the house when she’s angry so you try to physically keep her in the home by blocking her path or holding her back physically. Let me be clear: it’s not a good idea to get physical with your child, first and foremost because it shows your child that the way to gain control of a situation is to use physical force. Secondly, you run the risk of escalating the entire situation. Remember how we talked about that natural urge to fight back? Well, I’m sure you know that urge is very real for your teen as well. I’ve heard many stories from parents about their kids striking back in response to the parent getting physical with them first. Don’t risk it. It’s not worth it.
Try to “win”: If you’re one of those parents who already knows that the way to gain control of an argument with your child is to walk away and calm yourself down, then you can disregard this point. Realize that if you continue to try to “win” every battle with your child, you will lose “the war.” To be honest, I don’t like using “war” and “battle” comparisons because it makes it sound as if your child is your enemy. It may feel like it more often than not, but remember, your child is not really your enemy—he is a kid in need of some more effective problem-solving skills.
What I have found is that the goal for most parents I talk to is to raise their child to be respectful, accountable adults that can make it on their own in this world. If that’s the case for you, then think carefully about the battles along the way. James Lehman says, “Pick your battles, and be prepared to win the ones you pick.” This means asking yourself “Is it worth it?” before you go charging into “battle” with your child. It doesn’t mean to “win” by out-yelling your child—it means that you succeed by using effective strategies that are going to help you achieve that long-term goal.
Pick your battles and consider walking away: As mentioned above, ask yourself if it’s worth it to deal with this issue. Does it need to be dealt with right now? Should you take some time to calm down before you address it with your child? Are your buttons being pushed? Think about the situation carefully and allow some time for things to cool down. You can address it later if you still feel the issue is important after you’ve thought it through.
Use a business-like tone: James Lehman talks about the concept of treating your family like a business in the Total Transformation program. You’re the CEO of your “family business,” so when things are turbulent, remember to address your child in the same tone with which a professionally-mannered boss would address an employee with a performance issue. Stay calm and neutral, and stick to the facts.
Self-disclosure: Let your child know you’re having a hard time communicating with them in the moment. It’s perfectly okay to say things like, “It’s really hard for me to listen and talk to you when you’re screaming at me,” or “When you scream at me, I don’t really feel like helping you.” This is a simple way to set a limit with your child and let them know their behavior isn’t working.
Challenge your child’s thinking: When I say “challenge” here I don’t mean invite your child to keep sparring with you by saying things like, “You think you’re pretty tough, big guy!?” What I mean is to point out that his behavior is ineffective. Say to your child, “I know you want to go to the mall, but talking to me like that is not going to get you what you want,” or “I get that you’re angry, but screaming at me isn’t going to get me to let you play your video games before your homework is done.”
Related content: 8 Steps to Anger Management for Kids
Last but not least, one of the single best ways to teach kids is by example. Role modeling is one of the key components of teaching kids how to behave. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you don’t want your child to yell at you, don’t yell at him. If you don’t want your child to curse, don’t curse. As James Lehman says, “You’ve got to model the behavior you want to see from your child.”
Dealing with Anger in Children and Teens: Why Is My Child So Angry?
Empowering Parents Podcast: Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher
Sara Bean, M.Ed. is a certified school counselor and former Empowering Parents Parent Coach with over 10 years of experience working with children and families. She is also a proud mom.
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I don't know what to do. I have a 15yr old daughter that has completely changed our household with her anger. She can be so sweet, loving and funny....but it lasts a few days and then she blows up. Not just screaming and yelling, but threatening to hit/beat up her 9yr old brother. She screams how she hates him and how she wishes he wasn't there. She gets so angry she is shaking/crying.
I don't know when these episodes are going to happen (this was the 2nd one in 8 days). Tonight has scared me to the point that I have the nanny coming this week ( I am a single mom) to make sure she doesn't hurt my son. I have tried the being calm and trying to get her to calm down, but she just starts screaming again. This isn't healthy for anyone in the household.
We appreciate you writing in to Empowering Parents and
sharing your story. I am sorry to hear about the arguments between your brother
and your parents. I understand your fear and your concern about the level
of violence which occur during these fights. 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.
We appreciate you writing in to Empowering Parents and
sharing your story. I hear how difficult your relationships with your
sister and your dad are right now, and I’m glad that you are reaching out for
support. 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. It may be helpful to look into local
resources to help you develop a plan for addressing your particular issues. One
that might be useful to you is the Kids Help Phone, which offers 24/7 phone
counseling to teens just like you. They also offer options for live chat,
information on local resources and archived questions from other teens on their
website which you might find helpful. You can reach them by calling
1-800-668-6868 or by visiting their website at http://www.kidshelpphone.ca/ We
wish you the best going forward. Take care.
It can be tough to watch people you love be treated poorly
by others. I can hear how important it is to you to help your parents manage
your brother’s acting out behavior. I’m glad you’ve reached out for support.
Where we are a website aimed at helping parents manage their child’s acting out
behaviors, we are limited in the coaching we are able to offer you as his
sibling. There is a website that may be able to offer you the support you are
looking for. http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/
is a website dedicated to helping teens and young adults work through the
challenges they may be facing. They offer support in various ways: by e-mail,
text, online chat, and a call in Helpline. I encourage you to check out their
site to see what they have to offer. I do wish you and your family the best of
luck moving forward. Take care.
I have a 14 year old son who is finding things difficult right now. He is going to school no more than once or twice a week - he chooses when he wants to go. He gets angry when we try and talk to him and agree on some boundaries. He is very controlling and aggressive. I would like to know how I can support him in a positive way so we can move move forward. This has been going on for nearly a year. He is getting to the stage where he finds it difficult t have a 'normal' conversation with any member of the family. Only when it suits him and only when he wants something he can be delightful.
Amy support to move forward would be greatly appreciated.
I am sorry to hear you are facing this struggle with your
teen son. It can be distressing when your child refuses to go to school. As
you’ve nodoubt discovered, you can’t make him go. Trying
to make him go may turn the situation into more of a power struggle than it
really needs to be. You mention that he does make better choices when he wants
something. In that respect, it may be possible to establish a plan for
motivating him to make a different choice in regards to going to school. Pick a
calm time to talk with your son about possible incentives he would like to work
for. For more tips on what you can do in response to your son refusing to go to
school, you can check out the article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/i-hate-school-what-can-i-do-when-my-child-refuses-to-go-to-school/. Be sure
to check back if you have any further questions. Take care.
I am a 46 yr old male with a wonderful wife and 2 daughters. The younger daughter is 14 and is ANGRY. She resorts to name calling, judging, putting words in our mouths, and somehow thinks attacking someone physically will help her relieve her anger. We never have been physical with her, yet she picked up scratching and hitting somewhere.
Our house is quite bad. Everyday there are horrible words said. I am at the end of my rope because I try walking away, I try talking calmly, and I've gotten so offended I've even done what this article says not to do - yell back and restrain her, but it doesn't quell her anger. She is just so full of negative thoughts and assumes the worst in other people that those thoughts set the stage for how she interacts. It's physically and emotionally draining.
Kids have no clue how much they hurt their parents. I'm very depressed over my girl and I've told my wife that I should have never had kids.
I'm not looking for support here, I guess I'm just blathering. I googled "Angry Teens" and this page came up.
Hope things work out for everyone, as reading these other stories reveal how different everyone's' situation is. Life is not easy.
wow I basically did everything in the article "Parenting an Angry, Explosive Teen: What You Should—and Shouldn't—Do"
Read more: Parenting an Angry, Explosive Teen: What You Should—and Shouldn’t—Do that a parent is not suppose to do in regards to this article. To make a long story as short as possible due to losing our house to a fire in July of last year I sent my two teenage sons to stay with there grandma twelve hours away. My plan was to let them go back to our home town to live comfortably while I searched for a place to live so I could finish my schooling. I lost my job but found a landord who allowed me to rent a one bedroom apartment as long as I was able to come up with the required deposit. I recently brought boys back to live with me because both of them ended up smoking marijuana and continued to get bad grades. They have been with me since february and I recently found my sixteen year old has been smoking marijuana only because he left his phone at home and his friend text after school"if he wanted to blaze it with another friend and my younger son who just turned fifteen". I immediatly picked them both up from school talked to them, questioned them, and while this was happening the friend mentioned in the text with my younger son ran right into a pole and split his lip open! Makes me wonder was he high? I took him to his parents home all the while thinking of talking to the parent about the info I just read on my son's phone. I didnt by the way not yet. Then some hours after our talk I found a bong, marijuana, and blunt wraps all rolled up in a shirt in my sixteen year old's backpack. Only because I asked him for my headphones that he returned to me smelling of pot. Of course I then searched his bag. This is where I did everything that a parent is not suppose to do minus any physical contact. His reply was this is Humboldt county you brought me to the heart of it! I honestly don't even know how to handle him. He basically told me it helps him and I can't stop him. He also said he found the bong today, which I don't think is true. My fifteen year old denies smoking since he has been here. My mom had bought a drug test while they were at her house when she found that they were smoking because they lied about it. She didn't want to tell me but later did and they were positive for the marijuana. I thought they have been through so much, they were really close to their dad who past away July 3rd of 2007, moving away from our hometown, losing our house to the fire July 4th 2014, seperated from me; this is alot to adjust to for them. What revealed today only makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong, I don't know where to begin especially after reading the article because everything I did and said is everything not to do. I thought I was already doing something, bringing them back home though it is a one bedroom apartment. I know it's a hard adjustment after living in a three bedroom house but they knew what the consequences were if they were to get bad grades. The pot was the major reason why I felt they had to come back home. I feel we all need some counseling. I can't help them if I can't communicate with them. I don't know what to do to get through to them, taking thinkgs away didn't seem to help. Giving them some freedom backfired on me. Giving lunch money don't even seem like a good idea anymore for fear they are using it to buy pot. My son had four buds that smelled pretty potent, and to think he had more then that. Who in the world could he be in contact with to get that much. It is so scary, frustrating, and stressfull. The article makes sense I just find it really hard to be calm and not get in an argument or being upset. What makes it worse is i'm preparing for my finals right now for school and can't even focus. We don't have any family here or close friends. It is all bad timing, but really I know there is never a perfect time for anything to happen. What comes next on how to help my sons?
You have a lot on your plate right now. I’m sure you are
doing the best you can considering the circumstances. We all make mistakes as
parents and respond in ways that are less than effective. What’s important is
you are trying to make a difference in your life and the lives of your sons.
From what you have written, it seems like you are trying to develop a plan
around the choices your sons are making regarding marijuana. This can be a
tough thing to manage, as you’re not really going to have much control over the
choices your sons make outside of your home. You can develop some rules and
expectations, however. For example, you can let them know that drug use of any
kind will not be allowed in your home and if they come home and seem to be
under the influence, then there will be consequences. You could also implement
random rooms searches, letting your sons know that anything you find will be
confiscated and destroyed. We would also suggest limiting the cash you give your
sons, as Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner suggest in their article http://www.empoweringparents.com/my-child-is-using-drugs-alcohol-what-should-i-do.php. Even if your
sons continue to make the choice to smoke pot, you will be doing what you can
do as a parent to hold them accountable for their choices. Good luck to you and
your sons as you work through this challenging issue. I hope you will continue
to check back to let us know how things are going. Take care.
I am so sorry you and your family are facing such hardships. If
you have not yet done so, it may be helpful to find out what types of local
resources are available to help your son and family through this very
challenging time. From what you have written, it sounds like your son is
continuing to struggle with the aftermath of his assault. Having someone who is
available to work with him directly may offer him some support in coming to
terms with the adversity that he now has to face. His doctor may be able to
offer you information on services in your area, such as counselors and support
groups. The 211 helpline would also be able to give you information on local
supports. You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a day by calling 1-800-273-6222
or by visiting them online at http://www.211.org/ While
the hardships your son faces are certainly no excuse for any acting out
behavior he may be exhibiting, they are still something that need to be taken
into account when deciding what the most effective response to his behaviors
will be. As much as possible, remaining calm and not responding the same way he is when he is behaving
inappropriately will be more effective. We have several articles that discuss
ways of remaining calm in the face of acting out behavior. One in particular
you may find helpful is Losing Your Temper with Your Child? 8 Steps to Help You Stay in Control. Hang in
there. I know it’s not easy to parent a child who acts out in anger. Good luck
to you and your family moving forward. Take care.
DeniseR_ParentalSupport DESPERATE PARENTS
wife sent me this link, and just like many of these comments, the situation is
a bit different. Just like the comment
above, our teen acts out in a physical way despite us trying all these methods
in different ways. When confronted with accountability,
he has lashed out phsycially punching. I really feel for the moms above, in a
real way. However, I am a dad. He THINKS he is bigger and stronger than me,
and not really sure what to do. Do you
think I should call the police, or use my physical ability to calm him? Or both? Taking punches from a teen, and filing a
police report seems like an open door for worse things. I continue to talk and stay business like,
but having a teen move to punch you is a difficult situation, so looking for input.
Teen today have many inputs that create a sense of independence, and as you
mentioned the faulty brain, if they feel physically they can achieve a result,
it is difficult situation.
this comment thread is not dead.
@difficult sit DeniseR_ParentalSupport DESPERATE PARENTS
This is a really difficult situation. We wouldn’t recommend
trying to physically manage any child who is acting out as this may lead to an
unsafe situation for everyone involved. Calling the police on your child can be
a tough call. It may be helpful to contact your local police department at
their non-emergency number to ask them how they might be able to help when your
teen son becomes
physically abusive to you or other family members. Kim Abraham and Marney
Studaker-Cordner have developed a Police Intervention worksheet for parents
that outlines specific questions you could ask. You can find a link to download
this worksheet in the article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-talk-to-police-when-your-child-is-physically-abusive/. I hope this
helps. Good luck to you and your family moving forward. Take care.
I would appreciate hearing more on how to deal with things with respect to the paragraph dealing with 'Get Physical". I feel like I have been left hanging on how to actually deal with the situations when your child (who is taller and bigger than you) will not give youMore the his cell phone, or get off his computer, or on how to stop/block them from running away to their father's house? If I take his cell phone or keyboard for computer as consequence; until he gets his chore completed or stops swearing at me or destroying the house, etc; he threatens to take away my cell phones and computers. He doesn't really have anything that matters to him except for being on the computer; doesn't go to friends as they communicate through computer games! :( I do try to communicate with him when he is calmer but he is extremely stubborn and than could takes a day or two!
The problems generally stem from not doing chores/ lack of responsibility and respect. Even if he knew about he chore/task a day before. there is a joint custody situation (60/40 split) and my kids do not have chores or responsibilities at their father's house. Even though the father gets the kids 40% of the time; he actually gets more quality time with our kids due to his shift schedule. Might get verbal support from my ex but no actions.
The situation you are describing is a tough one. It is very
difficult to deal with a person whose primary solutions for solving problems
are using aggression, threats or just leaving. That type of behavior can be
considered abusive. In order to effectively hold your son accountable, it
may be useful to assessMore any safety concerns that are present when setting
limits and seek out support from law enforcement or a crisis intervention
service. Depending on the age, if a child is unwilling to honor your
authority, it can be necessary to access a level of authority that can enforce
limits. Having those kinds of supports in place will help you send the clear
message that your expectations for his behavior do not change based on the
level of aggression he displays. Additionally, planning in advance for any
escalation will help you disengage as well as stay calm in the moment.
You can find more information about resources in your area by calling the
Canadian National Health and Human Services Helpline at 211 or 1-800-836-3238.
While it may be needed, it is certainly understandable that calling the
police may not be your first inclination. Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker
–Cordner provide parents some very good strategies for dealing with children
who are destructive in their article http://www.empoweringparents.com/is-your-defiant-c... . It
is good that you reached out for support. Please keep in touch.
Thank you Tamara. Unfortunately Daniel has not qualified for insurance since hid dad died last year because of an infernal, ongoing mix up betweent the afordable healthcare act site and medicaid, both claiming the other is responsible for his care endlessly. He took himself off all his meds andMore our county noffers no healthcare for our "super wealthy" (27,000 a year for 3 people) family, nor does our state accept extended medicaid funding. So it's not as simple as just getting him some medical care with an expert in Aspergers, unfortunately.