Meltdown Averted

10 Phrases To Help Defuse A Fight With A Tween

Let’s be real: This age comes with lots of boundary-pushing.

Written by BethAnn Mayer
A woman talks to her tween daughter.
FG Trade/Getty Images

Remember when you called your pre-schooler a three-nager? The power struggles may have been real at age 3 — and this is not to minimize parents' difficulties with them. However, it can feel like things go to a new level of "edgy" less than 10 years later when your sweet, slight-sassy little one enters "tween" territory.

No, it's not just you, and it is not necessarily a bad thing if you have a boundary-pushing tween.

"Conflicts with your tweens can be a healthy part of their growth," says Dr. Jasmine Kaur, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health. "As children grow up, they acquire abstract reasoning skills and question things around them more critically. Their home can be a safe space for them to practice these emerging skills and simultaneously express the emotions that come with this."

In other words, the fact that your tween feels safe enough to fight with you is a compliment. It might not be the most fun one to experience, though.

"It certainly is not easy to be on the receiving end of this as a parent, as constant arguments can make you feel frustrated and even demoralized," Dr. Kaur says. "However, understanding that this is a healthy part of your child's development can help put this in perspective and change your mindset to a growth-oriented one."

That growth mindset might include developing tools to help your child build emotional intelligence and conflict-resolution skills. One of those skills? It's free — your words. Kaur and another mental health professional who works with adolescents and young adults share 10 phrases that'll help parents turn down the volume and defuse a fight with a tween.

"I need to understand your perspective better. Please tell me more."

A little curiosity can go a long way. This phrase shows a tween their parent is ready to listen rather than lecture.

"This can be a great place to start," Kaur says. "Instead of thinking about the next thing to say, stop and take time to really listen to your tween's perspective. Be interested in what the other person has to say empathetically."

"I understand where you are coming from."

Even if your decision will stand, showing empathy can be vital in maintaining a positive relationship during challenging conversations.

"Validating your tween's emotions is one of the smallest but influential ways to reach a common ground," says Emma Giordano, LMHC, the group services coordinator at Empower Your Mind Therapy.

"Here's what I am hearing you say. Please let me know if I'm missing something."

Oh, you heard your tween loud and clear. Here's your chance to let them know by following this phrase with a paraphrased version of their issue as you understand it.

"Reflect on what you understand about their perspective," Kaur says. "This helps your tween feel that you truly listened to their side and are giving them adequate space to say what they need to say."

"I think we can agree on a few things."

You may feel like you're operating on different planets, but you and your tween are on the same team. This phrase turns a fight from "you vs. me" into "we."

"Find common ground you can agree on, even when you feel worlds apart," suggests Kaur. "This phrase can help your tween feel heard and make them feel that you are here to work together, not against each other."

"This is why..."

Giving your tween the floor is important, but you get a turn to speak, too. Giordano advises parents to fill in the blank here with phrases like "I'm upset" or "This is a rule in our family."

"This allows you to remain on track with what you want to get across to your tween and gives them the ability to understand your reasoning, as opposed to 'because I said so' or 'because I'm the parent," Giordano says.

"I am feeling..."

Do you feel like you're always hearing advice about "I" statements? There's a reason.

"Because they work," Giordano says. "Your tween is more likely to hear you out if you are presenting your feelings instead of telling them how they are wrong."

Moreover, it invites the tween to practice empathy, too.

"They have emotions too, so they know what it's like to feel angry, unheard, and disappointed and can relate," Giordano adds.

"Let's take a short break and come back together when we are both cooled down."

You may be in "fix-it" mode. However, like building Rome, you and your tween may not be able to solve this issue in one day. In fact, it might be more beneficial in the long term to admit it's best not to try right now.

"You can use this phrase when you notice the argument getting too heated and unproductive," Kaur says. "Taking some time to cool off allows both of you to reflect on what happened and consider the other person's perspective."

Remember: "Not right now" doesn't mean "We're not going to discuss this again. At all."

"Come back and address the conflict soon, as unaddressed feelings can lead to more problems later," Kaur says.

The following day or the drive home from school might be a better time to re-engage your tween.

"I am trying to see your perspective. Can you try to see mine?"

Again, this phrase goes off the "because-I-said-so" path many of us went down with our caregivers when we were kids.

"What will result in long-term changes is not forcing your child to accept your position, but teaching them how to consider where you are coming from so that they can make decisions with your perspective in mind," explains Giordano.

"What do you think about this?"

Enlisting a tween's opinion during a fight puts you both on the same side of the line and conveys that you value their opinion, which is huge for relationship-building.

"This shows your tween that you are interested in their thoughts and emotions and intend to work together toward a resolution," Kaur says. "It helps your tween feel that you are truly listening to them and including them in your thought process."

"Thank you for working through this with me."

Curiosity, empathy, and validation all have a place in diffusing fights with tweens. Gratitude does, too, even if you're feeling anything but thankful for this moment in the moment.

"Acknowledge your tween's efforts to speak with you and clarify the matter," recommends Kaur. "Validate that this is not easy and that you appreciate their efforts. It also lets your tween know that you are really trying to work towards a resolution together rather than getting stuck in the problem."

General Tips for Diffusing Fights With Tweens

Scripts like the above can be useful, but every tween and parent-adolescent relationship is different. There's no cookie-cutter way to respond to a fight with a tween. However, our experts can offer some general advice if you want to write your own script.

Keep your cool.

Giordano's No. 1 piece of advice? Keep your cool.

"You cannot expect your child to calmly resolve conflict if you cannot model that for them," she says. "Adults objectively have greater control over their emotions than children and adolescents, and you have to work with your child's biological limitations."

That doesn't mean being passive, permissive, or ignoring your emotions. That's why Giordano recommended phrases like "I'm feeling" as you work through issues with tweens.

Validate their feelings.

You're older than your tween and very well may be wiser. However, fights aren't always about who is "right" and "wrong."

"Aim for listening and validating your tween's thoughts and feelings," Kaur says. "This allows your child to feel understood and will decrease defensive patterns later. It will allow them to be vulnerable with you if they feel you are truly listening without judging them."

Give it time.

Tweens (like adults) need time to process things.

"Don't be in a rush to resolve things or change negative feelings to positive ones immediately," says Kaur. "Your tween may need several discussions with you to resolve their feelings. At the same time, gently encourage your tween to address any tension and concerns rather than avoiding difficult conversations."