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Dealing with your strong willed teen

Stormy, emotional and inflexible was the climate in our home for six challenging months during our daughter’s freshman year of high school. My go-with-the-flow, sunny, cheerful child had transformed into an obstinate, strong willed teen, who became extremely hard to live with. 

That’s why I have 100% compassion for all moms in this struggle right now. I also understand the perspective of girls who are going through massive social, emotional, and hormonal changes. My daughters and their peers describe to me periods of feeling lost, confused, wild, out of control, isolated, excited, and compulsive. This is a test of patience for everyone.                                

Strong willed kids hate to be told what to do. Their core fear is being controlled.  They are easily frustrated, inflexible when they don’t get their way, and hyper aware of fairness and slights.  They lead with anger, which can make communication with parents difficult, as it pushes us away.  Instead of trying to understand and seeing them with compassion, we move into threat-reaction. 

I have a lot of resources on relating better with your kids at, but the resource I find most impactful to deal with an angry teen is the S.T.O.P. practice. S.T.O.P. is both a metaphor and a way to build effective skills. 

S. Something matters

What do I need to know?

This phrase allows us to recognize the child's distress and validate them. This is a crucial step that most people miss. This is not the time to distract them, diminish their feelings, or help them rationalize. It's important to meet them heart-to-heart before you can mentally solve, fix, teach, correct, or tell them what's wrong. It's time to focus on THEM. To be aware of their emotions.

T. Threat/No threat

Send them safety signals to help them feel less threatened. 

Safety signals to help them overcome their fear or sense of threat:

  • Get on their level so there is no hint of a power dynamic.

  • Validate their emotions. Reflect and honor what you see. "It makes sense you . It is understandable that you are mad right now."

  • Give them space and return later.

Pro tip: If you are having trouble letting go of the belief that they are manipulating you, or that they are wrong or to blame, it's okay. The Building an Emotionally Healthy Home Course will explore reframing these thoughts.

O. Own and stay with the discomfort: it has a message and a purpose.

Anger is a difficult emotion, which is experienced as sensation in the body like tension, heat and fast breathing. These feelings indicate what is important and what isn't. They reveal what matters and what you are each needing. Is it partnership, understanding, being seen, choice, ease?

What to say when your teen is angry:

  • "I'm on your side. You're not by yourself.”

  • "This is hard. This is a difficult time. Even though it's intense, it won't last forever.”

  • "We can do this together, it's you and me against the problem." 

  • "I know something very important is going on because you're so angry?"

  • "It's understandable that you're upset."

P. Purpose and Perspective 

All emotions, including anger, have a life sustaining purpose. Their purpose is to get our attention and give a message about what we need. An angry child wants validation and support. Their emotion isn't about you. Even when they direct anger at you, it’s about them and their need for support.

When you can see that anger has a purpose and is necessary for understanding what matters, it shifts your perspective. You can see it as a gift, not something threatening, annoying, or inconvenient. When your perspective sees the purpose of anger as pointing to the need underneath your child's behavior, it's easier not to get triggered, so everyone wins.

Closing thoughts

Dealing with an angry teen can be excruciating; remember to give yourself a break and notice when you take it personally, as it isn’t. Fill your own tank as much as you encourage your daughter to. Showing up to her in a centered way is half the battle. She’s lucky to have you!

Allison Livingston is a conflict resolution specialist, mediator, parent and parenting coach for those struggling with a strong-willed kid (sometimes due to ADHD or other factors). You can reach her at

If these tools make sense and you’d like to learn more, there is a free download on Facing an Angry Child for you on her website.


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