How to parent your teenager during a stressful period

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This post is titled how to parent your teenager during a stressful period, but I need to make clear that this is not me telling you what to do, it’s more a series of observations on parenting an older child when life is hitting you with the tough stuff.

Life sometimes can throw things your family’s way that is unexpected, challenging, and even traumatic. It can hit our children hard and the teenage years are not an easy time, add stress, or difficult situations and you have a recipe for an emotional rollercoaster that may seem like you can’t get off.

We have faced several challenging and traumatic events over the past two years. Last year the husband became very ill and was taken to hospital and spend time in critical care and in a cardiac ward then at home recovering due to an infection that affected his heart. During that time I realized that it was on me to be the one to make sure the kids coped. He was too ill and too tired to do anything but get better and the trauma of seeing their dad very ill, in hospital, and then recovering and not really himself for a while was hard on the kids. It made me realize that whilst teenagers can be difficult to parent, sometimes there is a reason for their behavior and during challenging times, if the adults are finding life hard, then it’s probably not unexpected that teenagers, who are not fully mature with their emotions and feelings, dealing with hormones and emotions, will be finding it even harder. If I am struggling to cope and process life as it throws things at me, it is not reasonable for me to expect my teenager to manage things better, generally.

What I am saying is that whilst you do need to have boundaries and expectations in place for your teen(s) you do also have to have some grace when things are hard.

Teenagers can be angry, shouty, stroppy, emotional, and very unreasonable. They also can think they know everything and that the adults in their lives are boring, trying to ruin their lives, are unreasonable, and that we don’t understand what they are going through. It’s normal on both sides to feel and observe these things. We allow adults to express sadness, grief, fear, pain, unease, worry, confusion, and rightly so, and our teenagers also need that freedom but how we manage that is important.

Teenagers can also be amszing, insightful, informed and actually may know things we don’t.

However they can also seem like giant toddlers, with demands and behaviours that take you right back to the terrible twos but with more vocabularly and often they are the same height as you, or in my case taller.

Balancing expecting a reasonable standard of behavior with the understanding that life might feel harder is important. We need to allow our children to express themselves but also learn that they are not the only human being in the house and that their behavior can affect other people’s feelings and behavior too.

It is perfectly reasonable to not tolerate angry or violent behavior. We don’t allow breaking things, slamming of doors, or aggression. However, we do allow expression of feelings even if those are not pleasant towards us. I will often encourage my teenager to voice what is in her head, even if she thinks it will get her into trouble. I would rather she told me “I hate you and dad right now, you are being really unfair” and then we talk about why she feels that way and what we can do to help with that, and explain from our point of view and try and negotiate towards working on an issue, than for her to keep it all bottled inside. Often, I will say what I think is in her head and she will be surprised that I actually have got it right. A gentle reminder to her that I was her age once, long ago, when the dinosaurs walked the earth, it seems.

We also have grace for tiredness, illness, and anxiety over change or what’s stressful, whilst trying to work towards healthier ways of expressing that. For example, being anxious about losing a parent to illness can produce a whole range of emotions and reactions to those emotions. Seeing them coming, and trying to navigate them, and talk about them and process them is easier than wondering why after they have hit and caused more chaos.

We also allow for hormones. They are wonderful, they change us from children to adults. But they can also be confusing, chaotic, and overwhelming. I know from my own experience of PMS that there are days in the month, where I want to smack people, eat a lot of chocolate, and cry. My teenage daughter faces that too. Helping her to realize that it’s not just her who feels this way and that it’s ok, but we need to manage, communicate, and have grace for ourselves and each other, too, is key.

We try to keep talking. It can be hard. Sometimes teenagers don’t want to talk. Sometimes they want to talk too much. But as the adults in the home, the parents, it’s up to us to keep communication lines open. To set boundaries but also allow for them to be blurred sometimes, and to have grace for less mature minds learning to deal with the world. I have always told my children that we want them to know they can talk to us, no matter what is happening. That we would rather deal with things than pretend everything is fine.

There are lots of books that can be useful as you negotiate this period of parenting and that can give you skills to help them when times are particularly tough. I have found this one particularly helpful. **AFF


Also, talking to other parents who have been there and done the teen bit helps a lot. Like most of your parenting journey, each stage can seem challenging and daunting, especially when you are in it and it seems like everything else you have dealt with seem like a picnic, and knowing others have been through it helps, a lot. I joke that parenting a teenager is the hardest thing I have ever done, and that is true, because not only do I know that I need to try and get this right, now, to manage the next few years, and also keep a good relationship with my teenager as she becomes an adult, but also parenting your teenager often feels like parenting a younger version of yourself, with all your flaws and issues. Parenting a mini version of me, successfully? I can do that, I think. If we can deal with the stressful times and come through them, then we will be ok.

Posted in Family Life and Parenting and tagged how to talk to your teenager, parenting a teenager, parenting teenagers, teenagers.