Can we for a minute, contemplate this idea – ‘there are no bad children, there are bad choices.’

Teenagers, like adults, manifest their feelings in their interactions with others. The difference is they tend to act more freely and without self-control. 

When you see an adolescent child being mean or hurtful, or negatively acting out, usually they are bringing out what they feel inside. They’re unconsciously trying to make others experience what they are going through. In their distress, they project themselves onto those closest to them. 

It’s just a passing phase. Or is it!

Many of us parents witness these moments and most commonly brush them off as a passing phase. Problem is, there is more to it when a child is overtly and continuously spiteful. When people witness this, they easily label the child bad. Instead of this label, perhaps there are just bottled up emotions and experiences leading them to expressing their agitation. 

As parents of the offending child, the instinct is to either defend or worse still attack your child too. If your usual response is to chastise them and it doesn’t stop the behavior, you might want to change your tactic. In my experience, repeating the same chant every day doesn’t work because there is something beyond the negativity, it’s a call. A call for what is the question you need to answer for your child.

Reflect on the root of cause

You have to be very careful to acknowledge the reasons this could be happening. You have to ask why! We take our parenting mandate for granted when we ignore or brush off our child’s negative actions. 

Sure you might just be unaware, but it’s very likely someone has told you there’s a problem, but because you feel you’re a selfless person, this automatically translates to your child. It’s not that simple. No one becomes any kind of way because of how the people around them perceive themselves to be.

Now that you’re open, you’ll want to know what’s really behind the behavior and seek out the opinions of those closest to you. More than anything, you need to listen! Listen to the cues, because deep down you know the truth. It’s not easy for someone to tell you something negative about you, so have the courage when they do tell you, to ask for a solution if you are at a loss. Allow them to give you an honest outside opinion.

Embracing the feedback may be one of the hardest pills you’ll have to swallow but it’s important for your child’s unburdening and your progress as a parent. 

What next?

The thing to do now is the opposite of what you have been doing. If you’ve been turning a blind eye, now you must see. If you’ve been chastising with attacking words, retaliating and shouting, now you must remain calm and be still. If you do not know what to do at that time, do nothing, take a break and start developing a peaceful aura in the home by diverting your attention to other activities and people within it. Focus on what’s working but most of all take back control of your environment.

Here are 3 steps I have used to bring back calm in my own:

  1. Be still, build and radiate love into the home. For a short while to stabilize the situation, engage in silent activities to calm yourself and create a spirit of peace in your house. Remember it is your home and you are the custodian of its culture. This period is for you to regain self-control and for your child to know things have changed. If you are a screamer, this might look like them saying: “Mom no longer shouts at me”. 

Your child will try you by doing what he/she usually does. If that’s attacking with words, don’t engage. If you have to engage, remove emotion. What you are dealing with has been embedded over time so allow time to wean off the behavior by your silent actions. Once you have a consistent positive pattern, now look at yourself. It’s better to do this after calming the situation to avoid fighting two battles, your own and regaining peace with your child.

  1. Ask for help and receive it. Introspect and ask what you’ve contributed overs the years. As you look inward, you should seek other opinions from trusted people. People are willing to help, they just don’t know how receptive you are. But now that you’ve opened yourself up to receive, they will tell you the truth and you should try your best to receive it no matter how bad it is. Then you can map your way out objectively. Once you do this, take steps to openly talk with your child. If they are not ready to talk, that’s ok. Use your actions and continue to enforce consequences to show you are moving forward.
  1. Set new choices and consequences and stick by them. Now that you’ve stabilized, wait for your child to reach out. One good thing about children is they will come to you when they need something. These will be your olive branch opportunities. What I tend to do, is use the request to show I am open to talk and to come to a decision about the request together. It is easier to enforce a self-chosen consequence with a teen.  I have realized giving instructions and hard rules while implementing this shift may be too harsh. 

Consistency is the key to lasting change. This period may take weeks or even months but if you want lasting change, be consistent. You can change what’s not working and do something new, but keep the momentum. That’s what parenting is. It’s sacrificing yourself for your child. 

It may mean changing your work hours so you are back earlier than usual, breaking from social outings, you might even consider a break in attending important family or community rituals. You need to be physically present.

Finally, tell your people. The people in your and your family’s life. They will understand and will help as buffers towards your end goal. You don’t want anyone sabotaging your plans so let them in on it.  If you don’t have close connections, then consider getting professional support. The support and encouragement will fuel you in the toughest moments. 

Don’t shirk your responsibilities. No one can do this for you. You may have someone who gets through to your child more than you, but I encourage you to do this yourself. 

By pausing, asking for help, introspecting and building a nourishing environment, you will slowly heal and put in love where it wasn’t. Radiate a calm reassurance and your child will over time let go of the negativity because now they are understood, they are seen and they are loved the right way.

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