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5 Ways to Respond to Your Teenager’s Meltdown

When Your Teen Doesn’t Respect “No”

A parent recently asked me for support on responding to their teenager’s reaction to a seemingly simple “no.” Teenagers, and let’s just be honest, most people, want to get their way. This is normal. When someone else sets a limit for you, it’s likely that you initially feel irritated, offended, or frustrated.

Stop. Breath. Feel.

Can you remember the last time someone told you no and it threw you off?

Now, I invite you to think back to your teen years: How did you respond to “no’s” from your parents?

Remember, teenagers are also managing a very-much-still-developing prefrontal cortex; thus, rational thinking and problem-solving can be harder for them to access.

When you say “no” to your teen’s idea of going out to a party on Saturday night, for example, they might have a meltdown. The teenage brain is very impressionable, and this party feels like THE MOST important thing ever for their social status and sense of belonging. Being able to think through it all carefully and understand that it’s not the end of the world, may not be accessible at the moment.

When you say “no,” and your teen reacts strongly, consider these 5 Ways to Respond to Your Teenager’s Meltdown, which will support them in cooling down and realizing that it all really is okay.

5 Ways to Respond to Your Teenager’s Meltdown

1. Remind yourself: “Their reaction is not personal.” Repeat this in your head over and over. You did not do something wrong by setting a limit or saying “no.”

Okay, wait… the real #1: Remember that you are doing a great job, and itt’s all okay! Really.

2. If you need to say no, try saying “no, but…” and offer an alternative. Your answer can be “no,” and you can still support your teenager in doing something they are excited about. Is there some way you are willing to work with them? Or a day that would be a “yes?”

3. Instead of no, is it possible to say, “Are you willing to ___________ because…?” This phrase “Are you willing too…” invites an opportunity to work together. You can use this sentence starter to set a limit in a softer way, while also offering some perspective into why the limit exists or matters in the first place. For example, you might say, “Are you willing to come to family dinner instead of going to the mall because it’s important that we have time to connect this week?” Or “Are you willing to skip out on the movie tonight because you already went out the last two nights?”

4. If you know you need to set a firm boundary, can you say, “I love you and the answer is no.” This is a tool from Positive Discipline, and while it seems simple, with balanced love, attention, and firmness it can be very effective. Another variation of this is to acknowledge you teenager’s excitement or emotions. For instance, “I see you really want this, but it’s just not going to work today.” First, you see your teenager, and then, you set the limit. You can simply repeat these phrases (lovingly, of course, because your tone matters) when your teenager has an objection.

5. If and when your teenager pushes back or has a meltdown, acknowledge their feelings and allow for a break. You might say, “I see you are frustrated. Let’s take a break and come back to this in 20 min.” Or “I see you are upset. I love you, and if this is still important to you tomorrow, we can talk about this again to see if we can find a solution.” Here, you will help your teenager know that their feelings are valid (even if they seem unreasonable to the adult brain). Additionally, you can inivite them to take a breather before anyone (which usually means everyone) flips their lid. Sometimes a situation will resolve with just a little bit of time.

Using Agreements to Avoid Meltdowns

The 5 tips above when help you say “no” in a firm, yet kind way. These strategies will also help you help your teenager learn boundaries and limits– a necessary skill for physical and emotional wellbeing.

Additionally, over time it is helpful to work with your teenager to create agreements sounding frequently discussed topics, conflicts, or limits. Co-creating family norms and expectations will support the whole family on feeling included and invested. As you begin the process of creating agreements, notice the number of “no’s” AND the number of meltdowns decrease!

If you’d like support walking through the agreement process or managing family meltdowns, I invite you to connect on a complimentary Discovery Call. I’m here to help!

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