Walking on Eggshells Around Your Teen? What to do?

Walking on eggshellsOkay! So you have a drama queen teen living at home. It seems that every comment, every question, every look is a trigger for a fight. How do you avoid them?

Well there are a few rules to communicating with our offspring during these difficult years. First, it’s important to understand that their brain wiring is off line. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read one of my previous blog on “why teens can’t take a decent phone message”. 

So while their brain is off-line, they are formulating their:

  • Intelligence
  • Consciousness
  • Self-awareness
  • Emotional regulation
  • Impulse restraint and
  • Rational decision making

This means that they often cannot see the difference between an angry face or a fearful face and they misread emotions from facial cues (seeing anger instead of fear or sadness for example).

Their logical skills are also severally handicapped and they go into the Flight, Fight or Freeze coping modes. This is a normal developmental stage in adolescence while they learn to navigate the 3 F’s. That’s why their perceptions of what’s going on can be an over-reaction. Blaming is a easy coping strategy and will happen less when they develop more mature skills.

Annoyed teenI remember asking my daughter to do something and she screamed at me “you are always yelling at me” (which happened often ).

My sister happened to be sitting right there, so I turned to her and asked if my tone of voice was angry. My sister looked shocked saying that my request was very simple and respectful and that I was ‘in no way’ yelling. (Her kids weren’t teens yet. LOL)

Of course, my daughter felt very justified in her reaction and certain that I had yelled. I cannot emphasize enough that we must not take their emotional outburst personally. (I know, I know, not always easy. Just do your best not to react too. One of us has to develop some skills for this to work.)

These are the important points to remember when communicating with an agitated teen. We must remain calm and curious and reflect back what seems to be going on with them. For example: “You sound angry about…did I get you?” “I’m thinking that you are crying because of…and that it’s because you think I’m unfair?”

If they start getting angry that you are telling them what to think or are twisting their words (they say that easily) make sure you repeat that you really just want to understand AND STAY CALM.Caution Drama Queen just ahead

The key is to speak to them curiously but in a “dispassionate” fashion – without emotion – to avoid triggering them.

If they yell, dispassionate curiosity helps to not take it personally and especially; do not yell back! (We all screw up here but, again, do your best.) We must be their model of respect.

Ask just a few open questions until you’re sure they’re safe and not in trouble; then ask how you can help. If you have to say “no I can’t do that”, say it in a quiet and confident voice. Tell them that you are sorry they are upset but that you cannot do what they are asking – AND HOLD YOUR GROUND.

Portrait of crying baby girl in pink dressThey might start to argue at this point and even get more agitated. (Think of their terrible two’s but with more verbal skills.) Just stay calm and curious and keep repeating that you don’t mean to upset them but that you must say no.

If they try to negotiate or guilt you into doing something they want, simply state firmly that this is not open for discussion and that if there is something that you CAN do, to please let you know, later.

If you find your own anger being triggered, figure out how to leave the room or hang up the phone. Example: “I have to go now…we can talk about this later tonight”. Their anger eventually subsides, and if you respectfully hold your ground, they will respect you for it (even if they don’t tell you until they’re 30 years old!)

How to model respectful behavior and survive these difficult years:

  • Speak calmly, quietly and confidently.
  • State your needs and boundaries assertively not aggressively.
  • Keep your communications VERY short. A few words instead of paragraphs.
  • Don’t go into explanations, it invites arguments.
  • Don’t say “You’ll understand when you’re older”!!
  • When you want to talk about it later when things have calmed down, have food available to munch over. It reduces the conflict by making it a more social and nurturing environment.

If you don’t do it right all the time, I have terrific news: Your teenager will give you lots of opportunities to practice this! 🙂

Did you find this helpful? I do hope you’ll leave your comments or questions below. I love expanding people’s solutions toolboxes so let me know what’s on your mind!


Forward this post to your friends who needs tips to talking to their troublesome teens.

As a former Family Life Educator and Crisis Interventionist, I started out my coaching years focusing on Family Life. 

Now I specialize in understanding all of the people in our lives who drive us crazy, professionally and personally, so that we can bridge that gap and become more collaborative.

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