Listening and De-escalation Techniques to Use with Teens

It seems like magic. Your child went to bed an angel, then the next day he woke up as an eye rolling, screaming, complaining teenager. What dark, evil magic is this?!

The screaming matches begin with arms flailing, feet stomping, and fist balling. Or maybe your child just shuts you out all together! As a parent, you may begin to feel so frustrated that you just say whatever comes to your mind. Soon, frustration turns into sadness and you just don’t know what went wrong with your child or how you lost control as a parent.

Don’t worry — there’s nothing wrong with you or your child. Remember, even adult relationships are hard and sometimes we exhibit these same behaviors (gasp!). And guess what…your beautiful teen is slowly turning into an adult.

While your teen is starting to form his own opinions, he is also starting to gain some independence from you. However, trying to navigate your teen in the right direction can be hard when he wants to yell at you or completely shut you out of his life.

If you are at your wit’s end with your teen or you want to make your communication better, follow these tips:

  1. Remain calm

    It shows you are in control and you can think most clearly when you are calm. You child is learning from your behavior. Remember the quote, “Do what I say, not what I do?” Well, it does not work. In reality, actions speak louder than words. Your teen is going to remember and learn from those actions. And do you know who influences your child the most: media, friends, parents? It’s YOU — the parents (really, research proves it!). If you are trying to talk with your teen and either of you are not calm, take a break. You can even come up with a code word that either of you can say when the argument escalates. Then go away to a separate place (ex. Your teen goes to his room and you go to the living room) so you can both calm down. Next, return to talk. If you become upset again, then repeat!

  2. Calming techniques

    It is important to teach your child how to calm down when they become upset, so it doesn’t result in him “exploding” later. Have your teen make a list of things he can do when he becomes angry to help him calm down. While you are at it, come up with a list for yourself too! Examples include: writing, drawing, doing push-ups, playing music, deep breathing, praying, talking to a friend or trusted source, singing, and journaling. While you are on your break, practice your calming techniques.

  3. Talk to your teen

    As parents, it is our job to help our teen solve his problems. Try talking to your teen and helping him problem solve before it turns into an argument. You can do this by asking your teen how he feels about the situation (discuss what his beliefs and values are, how he can apply his beliefs to solving his problems, how he thinks he would solve the situation and how he thinks you would solve the situation).

  4. Listen to your teen

    I know what you are thinking, “What?! My teen is supposed to listen to me!” Well, that is true, but if you want him to listen to you, then you need to listen to him too. Remember, he is learning by what you do. Try practicing these active listening techniques to show him you are listening:

    1. Stop what you are doing to give him your undivided attention (no cell phone, no TV, no sibling interruptions, and if possible, no cleaning, etc.)
    2. Show him you are listening by nodding your head, using facial expressions, making eye contact, etc.
    3. If you are not sure what he meant, then clarify by asking him, “Is what you are saying ‘ABC’?”
    4. Ask questions or make statements back to show you are interested in the conversation.
    5. Be aware of your own biases. You don’t want to jump to conclusions. So remember to listen to what your teen is saying first. After your teen is finished, think about your response thoroughly before you state your viewpoint.
  5. Praise appropriate behavior

    Point out when your teen is exhibiting great behavior! Building your teen’s self-esteem can actually lessen your teen’s outbursts. Anger is often driven by feeling insecure and lack of control. Help your teen by spending time with him, teaching him a skill, enjoying a hobby, or just talking.

If you do have an argument, remember to remain calm, discuss the issue with your child (never argue in front of others because siblings can pick up on the behavior and it can give your child power in the situation), and try to problem solve together. If your child needs discipline, wait until you are calm to enforce it. Remember change will not happen overnight. It is important for you to practice these tips and model these behaviors to your teen.

If your relationship with your teen is at the point where there is a safety concern (violent behaviors, running away persistently, threatening to harm self or others, etc.), please seek additional help. Sometimes, there may be an underlying factor such as mental health (ex. depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder) or environmental factors such as childhood trauma, current trauma, bullying at school, low self-esteem, etc.

Great resources for crisis intervention of individual/family therapy in the Chattanooga area include: Youth Villages, Centerstone, and Bethel Bible Village.

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