Teens are Just Tall Two-Year-Olds

Do you remember when your toddler threw himself on the floor of the supermarket because you wouldn’t let him eat dog food? Yeah, me too.

tantrum cartoon

Well, your teenager is not so much different from that toddler. According to Margaret Mahler’s Separation-Individuation theory of child development, toddlers experiment with their growing independence by testing both distance and intimacy with their parents. They crawl away, then turn around to see if you’re still there. The developmental term for that is rapprochement. Adolescence is actually a repeat of this, as the child moves towards adulthood. And that process can look and feel very similar to the supermarket toddler tantrum.

mood swing

For parents dealing with teenage, size extra large tantrums, this can be confusing. So, how can we approach our teens in a trying moment and navigate the minefield that is parenting an adolescent?

  1. Proceed with caution! — Angry teen is like a wounded animal. Avoid trapping or provoking.
  2. Keep cool! — Avoid becoming defensive and starting your own tantrum.
  3. Employ the S.L.A.P!™ method
  4. Set limits — Make it clear that you are not willing to accept abusive language, acts of destruction or physical violence.
  5. Be loving — Try to see the toddler inside the teen, and understand this is a person who is suffering. Act with compassion.

In recalling the toddler tantrum days, remember what worked. Give two choices that are parallel to do you want to walk or do you want to be carried to the car?

Like, do you want to continue this in a calm, respectful conversation while we’re walking the dog, or shall we go for lunch? You don’t have to let your teenager scream at you, roll her eyes or slam a door in your face. Make space and set expectations for calm, respectful dialogue. If the tantrum resumes, repeat the request for calm, respectful dialogue.

Don’t give a tootsie pop, no matter the temptation.

cannot comprehend

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