You remember it well. You went to the grocery store with your two-year-old. He wanted some candy in a brightly wrapped package that was on a shelf. You said “no.” This began a temper tantrum in the midst of other shoppers. You were embarrassed and handled it by any number of means—ignoring it, trying to reason, trying to divert attention, and hopefully not giving in.
Those days are gone, and now that feisty toddler is a teenager—the second phase of seeking independence. Are there still tantrums? Oh, yes. They have just taken on different forms: yelling, door slamming, the silent treatment, scowls, and lots of passive-aggressive behavior—refusing to do things you expect because they are mad about something. These responses can be expressed in outward behavior—failing to meet curfew, storming out of the house when they’re told not to leave, etc.
It’s frustrating, stressful, and exasperating, to be sure.
So, how do you deal with these more “sophisticated” temper tantrums? Here are 6 strategies.
1. Be proactive when tantrums are not happening—it’s about trust
You have to build trustful relationships with your teen. This isn’t easy. And it happens over time, not overnight. Your teen has to trust that the rules you have put in place are reasonable and necessary. You have to be able to trust your teen to make good decisions, even when in questionable circumstances.
Trust begins with open communication. When your teen is in a calm state, and you are not stressed or frustrated, this is the best time to hold conversations. And we don’t only mean conversations about rules or standards.
How about sharing with your teen some of the stresses you face at work? Or a falling-out with a dear friend? When you can open up to your teen about some of your issues, and even ask questions like, “What would you do?”, two important things happen: Your teen begins to see you as a whole person who they can talk to, and they start to see themself as a more mature person—someone who is valued by their parent.
Once you begin to be more open with your teen, they will be more open with you. You will learn more about their personal life and stressors, too.
If you have developed trust, you will be able to calmly and reasonably explain the rules you have for his or her conduct and why you have those rules. Although not every interaction will be perfect, rules and expectations are far easier for teens to swallow when the foundation of trust is there. Once trust has been gained, you could very well see a reduction in those tantrums.
2. Use influence by modeling behavior
You need to use influence by modeling appropriate behavior during conflict. Likewise, your teen needs to learn how to use influence, rather than temper tantrums, with you.
A simple and effective conversation might begin like this: “So, I see that you yell and scream and slam your door when you don’t get your way. How is that working for you? Now let me explain what might work for you in the future.”
You can then explain to your teen how reasonable persuasion might work. She wants to go to the mall with friends? Fine. How does she reason with you that this is something you need to say yes to? Has she cleaned her room and finished other assigned chores? Is her homework finished? Is she willing to set a firm time frame for this jaunt? Has transportation been arranged?
Also be sure to emphasize that a well-reasoned argument does not always equal getting what they want every single time. It’s a skill to be practiced, and it builds trust and respect for the future.
3. Always reward behavior that builds trust
Remember those toddler training days? You likely rewarded your child when he went to the potty, when he picked up his toys, etc. The same principle is in action here. Humans tend to repeat behaviors that result in rewards, no matter what the age.
If your teen has honored your curfew over several times, then it’s time to reward her. You can decide what type of reward works best for you. How about letting your driving teen have the car to go to the mall or a movie?
If it’s in your budget, you might consider a material or monetary reward, like extra cash to buy that video game or that pair of jeans. But rewarding good behavior with opportunities and experiences tend to work best over the long term. When you put these rewards in place, and your teen sees them as valuable, and they will be far more prone to follow the rules in the future.
4. Ignore the temper tantrum
Trying to reason or argue with a teen who is “emotionally flooded” and in the middle of a tantrum is foolish. And it can only escalate the behavior. Again, go back to that toddler. If a tantrum occurred at home, you may have used the ignoring technique. This was probably pretty effective.
If you don’t buy into the tantrum, it is likely to dissipate more quickly. Now, with a teen, once the yelling is over, things will get quiet. But don’t think that the anger has gone away, as it did with your toddler. Your teen will hang on to anger longer, and you need to respect this.
Wait. When your teen is ready, they will come out of their room and perhaps even initiate conversation. Respond, but do not address the tantrum or its cause. Sometimes, your ignoring the behavior will prompt your teen to initiate a conversation about what made them angry.
Maybe it’s a rule that your teen doesn’t agree with (e.g., going to a party without adults present). Don’t second-guess yourself on the rule. You have it for a good reason. But if your teen begins a conversation about it, you will need to calmly reinforce why you have that rule and that you will not compromise on it.
5. Understand the emotional vantage point of your teen
Here’s the thing about most teens. They are self-centered and often feel entitled. Their world at this point is primarily centered around themselves and their wants and needs.
They also feel entitled. Why? Because their parents have been meeting their needs since they were born. Why not now? And while they are still depending on you to meet their wants and needs, they want more freedom. It’s important for you to understand this conflict within your teen, because it is a normal part of growing into adulthood.
Give freedoms where you can, and provide the support they rely on. But do not compromise on the rules and parameters that are important to you.
6. Your teen has stress, too
And this stress will affect your teen’s moods, just as it impacts yours. When things are going well for you, you are in a much better mood. But if you are stressed over any number of things, you become more irritable and prone to anger. Give your teen that same right to feel their feelings.
What they are currently angry about may not be the real cause. It may relate to issues with grades, peers, or a relationship breaking up. If your teen is balking at simple requests or long-standing rules, something else is probably going on.
Be patient, don’t relax your rules, and with luck things may even out or your teen may be willing to talk about those stressors. You can even open the conversation by addressing the stressors you are now experiencing (as we mentioned in the first point!). And this may lead to your teen opening up about what is going on and talking through possible solutions
Suppose your teen is overwhelmed by school work—essays, papers, tough homework assignments, all with due dates she feels she cannot meet. See what you can do to assist. If it’s beyond what you can do to assist, you can check to see if their teachers can provide extra help, or you can get a tutor. There are also plenty of online writing and homework services that can help out, such as Top Essay Writing, Khan Academy, or Classy Essay.
If the issue has to do with peers or relationships, try speaking from your own experience and seeing what you can do to help from there.
If your teen is dealing with social anxiety, check out our article here on how to help them overcome social anxiety.
Your teen is going through a process—moving from childhood to adulthood. And temper tantrums are a normal part of that process.
They are simply one way that teens use to advocate for themselves and their independence. Over time, your teen will take cues from you on how to handle issues and conflicts in more adult ways. You have to be the adult here. Remain firm, calm, and supportive, and be certain to reward appropriate behavior whenever you can. And one of the big rewards will be feeling closer to your teen, even through tough times.
How do you deal with a teen temper tantrum? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
Erica Sunarjo is a professional writer and editor at Subjecto and Studyker with a Master’s degree in
Marketing and Social Media. She writes thought-provoking articles for publications in a
variety of media. In her free time, she likes to go hiking, travel, and read books.