We've All Been There

Lost Your Cool With Your Teen? Experts Recommend These 10 Phrases To Repair

Yes, good parents sometimes yell. Learning to repair can help you and your teen rewrite the story.

by BethAnn Mayer
A mother and teen have a tense conversation.
Anchiy/Getty Images

If you spend enough time scrolling through social media or listening to parenting podcasts, you'll see the word "repair" pop up. People aren't discussing taping together a book ripped apart by a toddler or sewing a button back on your teen's favorite winter coat.

"Repair means that you recognize your wrongdoing and that you are able to come back and fix the problem with your teen," says Dr. Regine Muradian, an author, speaker, and psychologist.

Repair is important. After all, no parent is perfect (despite what you might also see on social media). Good parents can get frustrated in the heat of the moment and say things they don't mean in a tone they wish they didn't cop.

"Regular life creates separations and sometimes misunderstandings or miscommunications," says Jennifer Lytle, LMFT. "This is to be expected. Repair is about the reverse of that. How do we come back together? How do we move forward once there has been a disconnect through misunderstanding? How do we reconnect after a painful exchange or experience?"

Now, there are a few things repair is not: It's not an excuse or cop-out.

"Repair doesn't mean disregarding your teen's feelings and solely focusing on your own," Dr. Muradian says. "It's not about apologizing and then repeating the same mistakes, as this can cause repeated trauma for your teen and diminish the value of the repair process. The objective is to earn your teen's trust by demonstrating a genuine effort to recognize their feelings and implement lasting changes."

While repair can seem simple when broken down on a few Instagram tiles, you may need help knowing where to start. These phrases to repair with a teen after a tense moment can help you get started.

1. "Can we try this again? I'm sorry I yelled."

Parents may need — and deserve — a second chance, too. But first, Muradian says you shouldn't ignore the first attempt at communicating something.

"It is important to acknowledge our mistakes and role model that yelling is not helpful and that you are working on this behavior as a parent," she says. "The power of role modeling is to teach your child how to respond to you when they are frustrated and for them to say sorry as well when they yell at you next time."

2. "I believe you."

The school called, and your teen is flunking math. Your teen swears they're trying their best, and you fire off a, "No, I don't think you're working hard enough," and then let them know they won't be going out with friends anytime soon. The conversation didn't feel great. In take two, consider using this phrase if it feels authentic.

"Oftentimes, a rupture comes out of us not believing or validating our child's experience," says Erica Miller, a clinical psychologist and founder of Connected Minds NYC.

This phrase flips the script.

3. "What do you need from me at this moment?"

Muradian suggests using this phrase if a teen seems moody and disagrees with nearly everything you say — which, admittedly, can be challenging to meditate your way out of as a parent.

"By asking this question, you are giving them control over the situation, which can help diffuse the conflict," Muradian explains.

4. "Look at how you ___________."

While not directly related to a conflict, Lytle loves how validating this phrase is. It can go a long way during repair.

"Lean into the good and beautiful, particularly in areas that are of special interest to them versus praising compliance or obedience," Lytle says. "As a side note, it can be beneficial to acknowledge when your teen takes out the trash, for example, but repair requires a deeper appreciation for the individual child. This could be, 'Look at how you paired those sneakers with that dress.'"

5. "I said (or I did) ______. That was painful."

The details matter in this phrase.

"Give an explicit description of your hurtful actions or words," Lytle says. "Acknowledge the pain caused by your actions. This models responsibility for one's actions and begins the repair process of acknowledging and allowing the teen's grievance to be aired."

6. "I'm sorry because..."

It's not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, the most straightforward phrase is the one to go with when repairing with a teen.

"This is helpful because you are leading with an acknowledgment of your behavior or misbehavior," Dr. Miller says. "This is helpful to model to your child that you can apologize for your behavior at any age and not expect something else in return."

Notably, Miller advises parents to avoid giving reasons for yelling, like, But if you just cleaned your room the first three times I asked! "It is important not to justify your behavior," she emphasizes.

It helps avoid the blame game, which Muradian notes can be damaging. "Blaming your child for the situation can lead them to feel guilty or responsible for your emotions," Muradian says. "This can create unnecessary anxiety and stress for the child, as they may feel overwhelmed by the burden of causing their parent distress.

7. "What upsets you about my behavior?"

According to Muradian, this phrase might help start the conversation with a withdrawn teen — but you may need to be patient.

"Asking them what you can change within yourself gives an opportunity for change. Be patient, as they may not want to open up at first," she says. "The key is being consistent with these phrases and showing them that you are willing to change together."

8. "I can see you don't want to talk to me and that you are angry lately. I am here and would love to work on this when you are ready."

This phrase exudes patience and puts the ball in a teen's court. While frustrating — you want to repair and turn the page already — you're planting a vital seed.

"You are also teaching them about healthy boundaries," says Muradian. "You want them to learn that, as humans, we sometimes need space and time to think about things before making a decision. This is the path to creating healthy relationships."

9. "Let's go to _______."

Repair isn't just about words.

"Repair with your teen by spending time with them doing something they would like," Lytle suggests. Take them skating, to the movie theater, for a walk, bike ride, or jog in the park. It shows them you enjoy time with them and are invested in doing things distinctly for them."

10. "Do you remember that time _________?"

Lytle says this phrase is anchoring, and that's key.

"Good parenting requires routine anchoring to who the child is, who they belong to, how they belong to a rich heritage and lineage, and where they come from," she says. "This helps orient them during tumultuous periods of life. A child who knows his or herself is a child who will not lose themselves in unhealthy relationships — at least not extensively.

Children with a strong sense of self rooted in relationships with their immediate and extended families? "[They are] able to stave off harmful social fads," Lytle says. "Strong roots provide resilience."

General Tips for Repairing With Teens

If none of the above feels like you, that's OK. You know your voice best — ditto for your relationship with your teen. Scripts can be helpful but are more like starting points. You can customize them to meet your needs. Would you prefer to write your own lines? Experts shared some general tips on repairing with teens.

Acknowledge wrongdoing

Instead of pointing fingers or justifying losing your cool, use phrases like "I'm sorry" to acknowledge that you wish you had stayed calm. Says Muradian, "Being vulnerable as a parent shows your teen that you make mistakes as well and that conflict can be resolved."


We know we're giving you tips on what to say. However, sometimes, the best strategy is not to say anything. "In general, you want to listen more and talk less to repair. Teens will retreat if your voice overrides their thoughts and feelings," Lytle says.

Trust the process

All may not be well after one apology or conversation. That can be discouraging, but some teens may need time — and other situations may require a longer cooling-off period.

"Parents need to trust that even if their child does not come around in that moment, or even doesn't look at us, that they have heard us and are taking in our words," Miller reassures. "Repair is not just about this moment, but about continuing to build and maintain strong connections with our kids."