The adage: “Small children; small problems. Big children; big problems,” doesn’t really hit home until our children hit adolescence, when suddenly, the intense physical demands of parenting young children can seem easy in comparison to the emotional intensity of a teenager.
During adolescence, the pre-frontal cortex of the brain starts to undergo a “renovation” and “expansion” from its previously stable state. While “under construction,” the teenage brain is developing in amazing ways. We look forward to the final product – skills in complex decision-making and self-expression, and a newfound self-identity. But, much like living near a construction site, it is chaotic, unstable, precarious, unpredictable, and thankfully…temporary.
Parenting an adolescent is the “Iron Man” of personal growth. It is HARD. It takes training. And it takes an incredible level of self-control. BUT, when done right, we come out the other end kinder, stronger and wiser.
One of the toughest obstacles to navigate with daughters can be the intensity of their mood changes. If misunderstood, a teenager’s lack of self-control and the intensity of their emotions can undermine relationships and families. But with insight and understanding, we, as parents, can master this stage with grace.
What do our seasoned moms say helped them navigate this tumultuous phase?
1. BITE YOUR TONGUE Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever react in the moment. No matter how badly you want to punish, yell or even smack, what seems like a rude, obnoxious and even monstrous fiend, HOLD BACK! When our goal is to raise good human beings, engaging in a moment of intense emotion or anger will never further this goal. Remember that your child’s attitude isn’t about YOU. Bite your tongue, sit on your hands, or breathe deeply. Don’t engage.
2. FOCUS ON WHAT IS BEING SAID, NOT HOW IT IS BEING SAID Try to weed out the attitude and defiance to figure out what your child is trying to say. Ask yourself, in the moment: “What does my child NEED right now?” Does, “You’re the worst mother ever!” really mean, “I need to feel loved right now”? Does, “I have nothing to wear! My life sucks!” mean your child is looking for clothing to help them feel good, and fit their new identity?
What a child “needs” in the moment is often very different than what they “deserve.” Focus on the long-term relationship you are looking to build and give them what they “need.”
When the moment has passed, and your child is calm and content, you can gently remind them of appropriate ways to communicate their needs, and how their words were inappropriate or hurtful. Plant the seed. You won’t see the results just yet. But when their moods stabilize, good behaviors will sprout.
3. EMPATHIZE It might not be pleasant to be on the receiving end of a fiery mood, but it isn’t pleasant being inside of it EITHER. Remind yourself that your child is EXPERIENCING the emotions they are projecting. And it is painful.
4. TRY TO KEEP PERSPECTIVE Keep your eye on the end goal. This stage will pass. Your sweet, angelic, kind, caring daughter WILL return. But how you react to her adolescent self will inform the relationship you have with her after she emerges.