How To Be Less Irritated With Your Teenager
Teenagers can be irritating. That may be the understatement of the century. It will come as no surprise that teenagers will tell you that parents can be irritating too! (Who?, What?, Me???…. Irritating???) Do you find yourself irritated and/or angry with your teenager for the things they do, things they don’t do, and the multitude of possible prompts they seem to need on an hourly basis? Are your interactions with them killing the ‘zen vibe’ you’re trying to have for yourself and portray to others? Well, you’re in good company. So let’s talk about some ways to manage and cope.
KEEP PERSPECTIVE –
Similar to when your child was two (remember the “terrible twos”?), there are important developmental markers throughout your child’s growing up experience. The “terrible twos” are when a child is learning a sense of self as a separate being, where he/she ends and you begin, to have their own opinions, and so forth. In the teen years, it’s a developmentally appropriate task for your teen to differentiate from you/ from the family. Philosophical questions arise for teens a la who am I separate from my parents, who do I fit in with and where to I fit, what do I want to do with my life (college and career questions). (See also my blog entry on “Surviving your Teen’s Mood Swings” at https://hopeintherapy.com/surviving-your-teens-mood-swings/) All that to say, maybe there is purpose in these things your teenager is going through and that you’re going through together in your relationship. And that it’s time limited; this won’t go on forever. And it’s not personal! There is an anger management book from a zen approach called “the cow in the parking lot” (http://www.thecowintheparkinglot.com/) and the title comes from if you were looking for parking at the store and someone ‘stole’ your parking space, you would react a certain way in your thoughts, actions, and behaviors, and yet if you tried to pull into the parking space but were unable to because there was a cow there, you might feel frustrated or disappointed but it’s not personal/ you’re not likely to blame the cow per se for this problem. There might even be some humor in it!
ACT BASED ON YOUR VALUES –
Principles of acceptance and commitment therapy are about values driven living. If we set our compass on our values, then we move in a direction toward those values. Ask yourself: Who and what is important in my relationship? What are the things I do and can do that feed the relationship or further the growth in the relationship? What are the things I do that the other can see that move away from the relationship? What are the things I do and think that no one can see that move me away from this relationship? (hint: entertaining your negative mind-chatter) Make a decision and recommit to it often, asking yourself, Is this what I want my life to be like? our relationship to be about? me getting on them for (insert most common annoyances here)? Make decisions about how you want to handle common stressors, and visualize yourself acting appropriately in those situations. (You can find out more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy here: https://hopeintherapy.com/acceptance-and-commitment-therapy-act/)
DECREASE YOUR OWN STRESS LEVEL –
Sometimes this is decrease caffeine and alcohol use, other times this is taking breaks; take lots of breaks. Brainstorm on your own, with your partner, or with a friend re What can you do to decrease your own overwhelm? Are there areas where you can disengage/ where you should disengage? Are you exercising regularly and taking time for yourself? (See also my blog on “Parental Burnout” at https://hopeintherapy.com/parental-burnout-what-it-is-and-how-to-manage-it/)
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE –
When you can, try to generate feelings of gratitude. There have arguably been times in YOUR life when YOU were challenging or obstinate or forgetful or [insert chief complaint about your teen here]. Ah. “Thank you, mom and/or dad for being patient with me while I was going through that phase”; “Thank you for not giving up on me”, “I’m glad I wasn’t rejected for every stupid thing I did or said”. Sometimes, picturing the person you’re having conflict with as being either a very young child or an elderly person makes it easier to then interact and react to them in a more loving way; it’s harder to be irritated when you can visualize the person as an 8 year old whom you wouldn’t fault with because they’re still learning. Your teen, too, is still learning. It can also be helpful to spend time with your teenager doing an activity or having a conversation that has nothing to do with your usual areas of conflict (eg, schoolwork, room cleanliness, hygiene, etc).
INTERACT IN SMALL DOSES –
American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron was giving a talk on anger and there was humor in her advice of interacting in very small doses, such as going to visit your parents for 10 minutes. I can just see it now: “Hi! I came over to see you, this has been a lovely 10 minutes, maybe next time we’ll do this for 12 minutes”. Sometimes your best interactions with your teen can be made from interacting in small doses and taking lots of breaks [from the areas of tension].
Apologize and repair when you do blow your lid. Which is human, inevitable, and the repair is good modeling for your teen to do the same repair work when THEY overreact with you, their sibling(s), their friends, their future partner(s).
GET SUPPORT –
If you related to this article and could use some support, I hope you’ll reach out to me to talk about how therapy can help.