There’s nothing worse than that moment when a discussion with your teen turns into a confrontation that turns into a screaming match.
This is something all parents go through. And as much as we promise ourselves it will never happen again, it’s like an out-of-body experience. You can feel it. You can see it coming. But you feel totally powerless to stop it.
If you have a teen, you don’t need me to tell you how volatile their mood swings can be. Even when we think we’re approaching a subject in the most objective of tones, the conversation can escalate pretty fast. Raising a well-disciplined teen helps, but there’s a point at which your teen controlling their raging hormones is about as easy as you controlling your reaction to them.
As hard as it is to stop the cycle of screaming, it’s imperative that you try. The screaming dynamic is dangerous to everyone involved. It makes you feel like you’re losing control as a parent and it makes your teen think screaming is a natural way to communicate. (Not to mention the fact that being part of a screaming household can impact on teens for the rest of their lives.)
It’s not easy to break the cycle of screaming, but it’s one of the most important things you can do for your teen. So, let’s talk about how you can break the cycle of screaming in your home.
If You Want to Stop the Cycle of Screaming, Stop Screaming
This sounds so easy, right? Just stop screaming and then your teen will stop screaming and then everything will be okay.
If only it were that simple.
It’s not easy to stop screaming. But no matter how hard it is, the change must begin with you. There’s no way to teach your teen that screaming is bad if he or she watches you scream or engage with screaming at home. It just doesn’t add up.
If you want to stop the screaming at home, you yourself have to stop screaming. If you can do that, then you really can break the seemingly endless cycle.
Stop the Screaming by Reacting Instead of Responding
Okay, so now let’s talk about how to actually follow the advice above:
The best way to stop screaming is to stop reacting and start responding.
To react is to deal with a situation in the heat of the moment. When we react, we retort from our gut. That means, if we’re provoked, it’s extremely hard to not let the provocation control how we communicate. Reacting means we act first, think last. And that’s how it’s so easy to start screaming and then wonder, “how did this happen again???”.
To respond is to let the heat of the moment dissipate before we communicate. That means, if we’re provoked, we take a few seconds to breathe deeply and decide how we want to handle the situation. When we respond, we think first, communicate second. And that’s how we can make sure we speak with instead of scream at our teens.
If you feel like you’ve gotten stuck in a cycle of screaming, there’s a good chance that you’ve been stuck in a cycle of reacting. To change this cycle requires you to look backward before you can move forward. When you do that, it will probably become clear that the screaming often happened in the heat of the moment, often in reaction to a provocation. Don’t let yourself lose control to provocation. After all, you are the adult in the situation (although sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.)
Here’s an example of how you can remain in control in a heated situation:
You approach your teen about a rule they’ve broken. Knowing they’ve gone against your wishes, your teen becomes immediately defensive. You now have to get through that defensive wall so you can understand why they broke the rule and make it clear that the behavior was unacceptable.
As you question your teen, let’s say your teen’s defensiveness grows, as does their volume. Before you know it, you have a yelling situation at play. If you react, you’ll probably yell back.
But let’s say you respond instead. Instead of immediately reacting, you pause for five seconds. The silence shifts the power back to you. The silence also deflates the momentum of the argument. Now you can stop and think.
Why is your teen acting this way? Clearly, they’re defensive because they did something wrong. But what was the reason for their behavior in the first place? It could have been an impulse thing – or there could have been another motivation at play. That’s what you want to get to the bottom of – if you know the “why” behind their behavior, it’s easier for you to fix the behavior.
Now you decide, thoughtfully, how you want to move the argument forward into a discussion so you can get to the bottom of your teen’s behavior. Your teen will probably continue to be defensive, but if you refuse to yell, your teen will stop yelling too. And, as it becomes clear to your teen that you want to understand them, they may slowly start to come around.
Once the yelling stops, you can communicate clearly and develop a plan of action for how to handle the broken rule. Isn’t this a lot more productive than screaming and slamming doors?
When your teen communicates with you in a way that provokes a screaming match, don’t let it get the best of you. Stop, count to five. Think empathetically about why your teen is getting so fired up. And then respond in a way that shows you understand how your teen feels, but also asserts that you’re in control. You’re the parent. You want to connect with your teen but you also need to show that you’re the boss. And nothing shows authority better than being in control of a situation.
When you cease the downward momentum of a soon-to-be screaming match, you take back the control. This will enable you to move the situation forward in a positive way.
Your Behavior Is a Model for the Way Your Teen Will Behave
An occasional heated argument might not feel like a huge deal. After all, that’s the occupational hazard of being a parent, right?
Here’s the problem with letting an argument with your teen get out of hand (besides the psychological effects of screaming): your behavior is the model from which your teen will behave.
If your teen sees you screaming (at them or at your spouse or anyone else), then they’ll think it’s acceptable to communicate that way. It almost doesn’t matter what we tell our teens to do – if our actions don’t match up, they’ll notice. And actions always speak louder than words.
Telling your teen to “do as I say and not as I do” is not an effective parenting tool. Teens (all kids, in fact) are smarter than that. They know that what you do is in the category of what they can do, regardless of what you say. So when you struggle to respond to the screaming, instead of reacting by screaming yourself, remember this. Every time you scream at (or back at) your teen, you’re showing them that it’s okay to scream.
Do you want your teen to grow up screaming at others? If not, then stop the cycle by stopping the screaming yourself. When you stop screaming, your teen will notice.
Feeling Over Your Head? It’s Going to Be Okay
I realize that this advice all sounds really nice and easy on paper, but is pretty difficult to follow in the heat of the moment. Just know this: it’s never too late to course correct.
Whether that means changing direction on months or years of a behavior or changing directions in the middle of an argument, you can always course correct. Once you are aware of the direction you’re going in, you have the power to turn it around.
If you’re wondering why this advice isn’t something you’ve heard before, it’s because of the simple fact that parenting is rarely taught. Most of us don’t have the luxury of taking a course on parenting the way we take courses on other things we want to improve on, so we have to learn as we go.
But if you’re feeling over your head, even after practicing this advice, then there is a course you can take. I’ve spent years researching human behavior and especially understanding the dynamic between teens and their parents. And realizing that parents are so rarely given the tools they need to succeed, I decide to make a tool myself: The Painless Parenting E-Course.
So go ahead and try this advice the next time a conversation gets heated between you and your teen. After you’ve tried it a few times, you will notice a change. But if you still feel like you could use additional support, sign up for The Painless Parenting E-Course to learn even more about how to stop the screaming in your home.
It’s never too late to make a positive change. Today is a new day, a new opportunity, to be exactly the kind of parent you’ve always wanted to be.