What You Need to Know When Your Teens and Tweens Put Up a Fight

Sharon M. Rivkin, M.F.T.

Never forget that our children are not our enemies.  They need our guidance, support, and a feeling that we’re on their side…even when they’re wrong!  Many parents do not understand the importance of keeping the lines of communication open with their teen or tween no matter what.  NO fight is worth losing connection with your child.  They are not against you, but simply need you to be there with them and for them.  They are struggling to become independent and autonomous, needing your help…not your arguments.  Hear them, and remember that they love you, you love them, and they just want to be seen, heard, and valued.

We often forget who our children are because their behavior drives us crazy, pushing our buttons while we’re trying so hard to be a good parent.  We can support their individuality while teaching them to learn from their mistakes.  Because they are still children and their judgment may not be the best, they nevertheless are trying to do the right thing.  Don’t expect them to be adults before they are, so keep your expectations realistic.  Often parents make the mistake of wanting their children to be perfect to reflect well on them, or desiring to live vicariously through their children.  But the greatest gift you can give your child is to allow your teen/tween to be the unique individual that she/he is.  We can actually learn from them!

Remember these four things when your teen/tween puts up a fight:

  1. Your child might actually have a good point. Most parents are very worried about being good parents, so they think they need to be right.  The more investment we have in being right and doing the right thing, the less we really see our children, and the less we take them seriously and listen to them.  If they’re really putting up a fight, slow yourself down, drop the self-righteousness, and hear them out.  They may actually have a good point.  And even if they don’t, and you disagree, you can still have a better conversation with them about the topic than if you’re just trying to get your point across.
  2. Listen, don’t lecture. The worst thing you can do to your child when they’re putting up a fight is to lecture to them.  Who likes to be talked down to and lectured to?  No one, especially a teen or tween.  If they’re fighting with you, then something is important to them.  Listen and read between the lines.  Think about what they’re really trying to tell you.  They’re usually upset about something but don’t have the words to express their feelings.  It is your job as a parent to decipher your child’s code.
  3. Respect your child. Most parents complain that their children don’t respect them.  But do we respect our kids?  Do we take them seriously, listen, and have compassion, while remembering what it was like to be that age?  If you want your child to respect you, respect them.  They deserve it.  They really do want to please you, but you are the adult and the parent, and you need to make it safe for them by seeing and valuing who they are, even if they disagree with you.  Take a good look at your child and see their individuality, not just the behavior they’re exhibiting that you don’t like. Always let them know you love them, but it’s their behavior that you don’t like…and make that distinction when you’re talking with them.  Remember: the adult brain does not really get activated until a person is 26!!!  So, your teen/tween doesn’t always show the best judgment.  Be patient with them, set limits, but don’t control them.
  4. Set limits, but don’t control your child. There is a big difference between a limit and control.  A limit protects your child from internal or external harm.  Control has more to do with ourselves and our own triggers.  If you find yourself saying to your child, “do it because I said so, or because I’m your parent, or because I had to do this as a child,” you’re probably trying to control your child.  We, as parents, have to look at ourselves and know what our issues are and not project them onto our children with a lot of rules that are for us, and not them.  We have to see what’s behind our reactions and evaluate if we’re upset because it’s pushing our buttons, or because our child is really endangering themselves with drugs, driving recklessly, cutting school, cheating or lying, etc.  We often justify controlling our children by saying, “I’m just being a good parent and setting limits.”  Examine your own beliefs and trigger points, so you really know the difference between control and limit-setting.

Sharon M. Rivkin, Marriage and Family Therapist, has worked with couples for 27 years.  Her unique insight into the first argument was featured in O: The Oprah Magazine and Reader’s Digest, and has attracted people throughout the United States and abroad for consultation, workshops, and courses. She is the author of The First Argument.  For more information on Sharon Rivkin or to contact her, visit www.sharonrivkin.com.

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