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Stop Fighting With Your Teen

Slammed doors and screeching arguments can be facts of life with a teen in your household. Here, how to defuse the fireworks.

Rule 3: Don't Escalate the Drama continued...

Give some ground. While you're not going to compromise on the big-ticket issues, look for opportunities to make at least small concessions. If you've ever bought or sold a house, you know that the most satisfying negotiations end with all parties feeling as if they've gotten at least some of what they wanted. When your kids were young, you could get away with offering them a choice among options you picked ahead of time. At this stage, you need to be willing to really compromise. Obviously you're not going to concede on any nonnegotiables - personal-safety issues, for instance - but you can probably find something to give up. For instance: "We can talk about a tattoo when you're closer to your 18th birthday, but right now I'm open to your looking into a temporary tattoo." "Teens need to express their opinions and have those ideas not only listened to, but also acted on to some degree," notes Peter Scales, Ph.D., developmental psychologist and senior fellow at the Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting healthy communities for young people. "It's a real victory for a teenager when he can persuade an adult to do things his way."

Next: Recovering from a fight, plus advice from experts on fighting phrases to avoid

So, advises Stern, tell your child, "Give me reasons for your thinking. Try to convince me that your way is better than mine, because if it is, then I want to do it that way." Obviously there comes a point where the listening ends and the limit-setting begins. Stern suggests saying something like, "I hear you, and I want to be flexible, but I'm the parent here, and I have my own ethics and standards. I'm not going to change my mind, because this is what I believe is right. I'm sorry you're upset and disappointed."

  • Walk away. When your kids were younger, you couldn't absent yourself during a fight - you can't exactly leave a little one unsupervised in the middle of Macy's. Now you can, and sometimes should, give yourself a breather. "It's OK to walk away," says Dr. Haltzman. "Just be clear that it's a decision you are making" because the fight is heading out of bounds; you don't want it to appear that you are storming off. Stephanie Sacco, mom of six in Troy, MI, finds it useful to tell her 15-year-old daughter, Rachel, "We both need time to cool down and think about what we really want to say" and then regroup later. Just don't get baited into continuing the argument, says Dr. Haltzman. Once you say you're tabling the discussion, mean it: Don't say another word.
  • Allow your teen to walk away, too. "When you're tempted to say, 'Don't you walk away from me when I'm talking to you,' remember that your teen is actually doing what you've taught him to do - that is, remove himself from a situation that's getting out of hand," says Peter Benson, Ph.D., an expert on adolescents and the author of Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers. "Waiting allows for a conversation that's much more productive." To restart the conversation, you can say, "Now that the dust has settled, let's finish this conversation so we can both move on."
  • Know how to recover from a bad fight. When an argument is over, try to smooth things over fairly quickly. Even if he's not talking, Stern suggests, say something like, "I know this has been a rough one, and I'm sorry about that. I know that we're both in the middle of our feelings right now, but I want you to know that I love you and as soon as you feel better, I'm ready to do something fun or talk through this."

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