• Kathy Whitham

How Do I Get My Teen To Listen?

Updated: Oct 25, 2019

Self-Regulation Is Your Best Parenting Tool!

When it comes to not listening, teenagers and three year olds - AKA three-nagers - have a lot in common! They both push back in ways that are mean, defiant, irrational and disrespectful. But teens have a way of doubling down on the buttons they pushed when they were three which can leave you feeling even more angry, frustrated, or resigned. Right?!

One reason their behavior can be so triggering are the words they use when they are having big feelings. Three-nager’s words are triggering enough - I will spit at you, I will bite you, you’re poopy, but teenage words like fuck you, you’re stupid, what a bitch, etc., can really light up our buttons. Before you know it, you’re taken over by that Here we go again! feeling. Your heart rate increases, you’re boiling inside without yelling, or yelling, despite yourself, and hooked into a ridiculous and irrational interchange that you can’t win, no matter what you say.

Here’s the thing, the teenage brain undergoes a major re-wiring in preparation for adulthood. It’s like your teen is growing back up through their early years again, based on whatever resilience they did or did not develop back then. So, they are using 14 year old words, but using them to express 3 year old feelings! It can be crazy-making.

Your child may not have developed strong resilience when they were younger for any number of reasons. This period of adolescence is your chance to fill in the missing pieces of emotional regulation skills they need to become emotionally healthy, successful adults.

Brain science tells us that a child can’t learn to manage or control their emotions in a way that makes sense - i.e. self-regulate - unless they are co-regulated first.

Brain science tells us that a child can’t learn to manage or control their emotions in a way that makes sense - i.e. self-regulate - unless they are co-regulated first.

I did say that twice!

As hard as it is, that’s where you come in! Improving your ability to manage or control your own emotions in a way that makes sense - i.e. self-regulate - has 3 powerful impacts on your child.

  1. It puts you in a position to co-regulate your child

  2. It models what you want your child to learn

  3. It makes your brain work better so you can make better parenting choices

This is why self-regulation is your best parenting tool.

Without this tool, it would be like trying to build an IKEA bookcase without turning on the light. You can't read the directions or use the tools with the lights off. We don't think of it as a tool, but turning on the lights is like self-regulation; things become clearer.

Here’s a step by step guide for self-regulation. Try it the next time you get that Here we go again! feeling:

  1. Notice yourself getting the Here we go again! feeling.

  2. Pause - Don’t talk

  3. Breathe in and out

  4. Remind yourself, “14 year old words. 3 year old feelings.”

  5. Rinse and Repeat

Here are a couple more blog posts about Emotional Age.



And here’s a super clear explanation of emotional regulation in a

short video by my colleague, Stacy Nation.



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