By Rebecca Meiser
Few people have the ability to get under your skin quite the same way as your teenager. Her attitude, eye-rolling, flagrant disregard for your rules, and questionable judgments. At times, it can at times make you want to scream your head off and tell her in not-so-subtle terms just how awful she is acting. Who hasn’t either thought or said out loud at some point “I hate my kid!”
But as cathartic as it may seem in the moment, erupting Mount Vesuvius-style is not the most effective way to get through to your child, experts say.
I Hate My Teenager!
“The first thing you need to remember is that the adolescent you might be angry with is the same child you have always loved deeply,” says Ken Ginsburg, M.D., co-director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of the book, Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love With Expectations and Protection With Trust.
When anger overwhelms, it’s more important than ever to reinforce connection with your teen, and to tend to the underlying relationship. Managing anger in the moment is a key part of preventing you from saying or doing something that causes long-term hurt.
“When you’re angry, you’re often communicating ineffectively,” says psychologist Richard Weissbourd, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of The Parents We Mean To Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development. “Rather than listen to your words, [your teenager] can focus on the fact that your reaction is unfair and overblown—not on the fact that they did anything wrong.” And in the heat of the moment, you might end up saying painful, unconstructive things that you come to regret later.
Taking a Step Back
Instead, try giving yourself a “time out,” allowing yourself the space and time to simmer down and sort through exactly what you are feeling and how you want to respond, experts say. Sometimes, in this space, you might find that your anger is only tangentially related to your child’s behavior—and that it’s really about something else, like an unexpected medical bill or a bad review at work.
Even if your anger is justified, it’s important to take time to re-center and breathe, says Dr. Ginsburg.
Remind yourself to give your teen the benefit of the doubt. “Our kids want to please us. That is just as true during their adolescent years as it was when they were 15 months old,” says Dr. Ginsburg. “When they understand that you care deeply—even when you’re angry—they’re going to do what it takes to maintain that connection with you—including doing the right thing behaviorally.”
The Importance Of Family Traditions
Of course, teens don’t always make this process easy. There have been times, for instance, that Susan Borison, editor-in-chief of Your Teen, has been so mad at one of her five kids that she didn’t want to look at them, let alone hug them. But a family tradition has come to the rescue. Every Friday evening, her family participates in the Jewish Sabbath tradition of parents blessing their children. “Even if I don’t feel like it, I suck it up. We go through the motions anyway,” Borison says, and she is always glad she did. “Inevitably, the anger dissipates.”
Lean on your family’s own unique traditions in times of friction. Maybe it’s a hug goodnight, an evening bowl of ice cream together, rousing Mario Kart matchups, or painting each other’s nails each week. Maintain those ties that you feel like throwing out the window in the heat of a fight. Each tradition, practiced regularly, carries a history of family connection. You add a link to that love chain each time you swallow your anger and show up.
Rebecca Meiser is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio, and frequent contributor to Your Teen.