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How to deal with strong-willed teenagers


I’ve heard about the discipline and training of strong-willed toddlers, but what about strong-willed teenagers?


Many of the basic principles used with toddlers still apply, but it is crucial you begin to put them into practice now:

Be confident and have a proper plan of action in mind
Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, and take care of your emotional health as you need strength and self-control to handle a challenge like this.

Establish clear guidelines
Communicate your expectations and the consequences for disobedient behavior in advance and make sure everyone understands them. Implement consequences promptly and consistently. If your teen challenges these standards, stay calm and don’t let them seize control of the situation.

Teens of all temperaments are trying to form an identity at this stage, which leads to behavior calculated to define “self” in opposition to or over against the values, beliefs, wishes and instructions of the parents. Therefore, it’s important to categorise your guidelines as such: non-negotiable rules, negotiable rules and rules that can be discarded as your adolescent matures and demonstrates a growing ability to regulate his or her behaviour.

Teach your teen about the reality of consequences when rules are broken
Talk about the ripple effect of the choices we make in life – on ourselves, our friends, our families and the world around us. Negative consequences should take the form of lost privileges (phone or computer time, curfews, or access to the car). Match disobedient behaviours with appropriate consequences.

Affirm any attempt to cooperate
One effective way to promote cooperation is to establish a point system based on chores that need to be done around the house: every chore earns a certain number of points, and points can be used to “buy back” privileges lost as a result of rebellious behaviour. This helps teenagers understand the links between actions and outcomes.

Watch for strategies that separate you and your spouse
You and your spouse must be on the same page to discipline effectively, as most strong-willed teens will pit the “softer” parent against the “stricter” one. If this applies in your case, consider seeking counselling as a family. Strong-willed kids often have at least one strong-willed parent, and it is difficult to work through the complex family dynamics associated with this clashing of wills without the assistance of a trained specialist. For information and support, feel free to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department at 6491 0700 or [email protected].

Stay in touch with your teenager’s feelings
Be aware of the day-to-day details of his or her life at home and at school. Take time to talk about any fears and anxieties they have, and to gain insight into circumstances that may be driving the disobedient behaviour. Express genuine concern for your teen’s well-being and teach some basic skills for managing negative emotions and maintaining positive relationships with other people.

This Q&A is brought to you by Focus on the Family Singapore, a local charity dedicated to helping families thrive through differentiated programmes, trusted resources and family counselling.

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