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3 Ways to Discipline the Emotional Teenager

A Peaceful Parenting Approach To Teen Discipline By Guest Author & Blogger Sarah R. Moore

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The teenage years are right up there with the toddler years in the (imaginary) Parenting Handbook of Most Fearsome Stages.

Add in our innate anxiety about the teen years to all the incredible changes that are happening in the teenage brain, and we ask ourselves: is this a recipe for disaster? 

Even parents with the most experience with and practice in conscious parenting methods can wonder if the teenage years are going to get extra tricky when it comes to discipline.

The most important starting point with teens (or any age), of course, is to remember that to discipline means to teach, not to punish

So, how can we teach our teens without punishing them? 

For starters, let’s get curious about a few of the stereotypes related to teens, and go from there.

Stereotype #1: Teens are naturally too strong-willed and difficult.

We may worry that teens are naturally strong-willed and that we’re about to engage in years of ongoing battle, largely due to their newfound (or perhaps even long-standing) desire to assert themselves.

Many parents are surprised to learn, however, that strong-willed teens are often greatly misunderstood.

Counterintuitive as it may sound, strong-willed teens often need more connection, more compassion, and more emotional safety–rather than less of these things.

We know this about the strong-willed child (of all ages) from Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science, and Better Behavior:

“Interestingly, with strong-willed children, many adults respond by digging in their heels and attempting to make their children less strong-willed. From the child’s perspective, however, the grown-up is just as strong-willed as they are.

That’s the classic recipe for power struggles.

The remedy is not to be stronger than the child in an eternal tug-of-war until the parent wins, but rather to teach in ways that have only positive consequences.

Oftentimes, if a child is strong-willed, the solution is to find a new way to communicate with that child. Logical and natural consequences can be particularly effective teachers for these kids. And bonus: they’re often much less work for the grown-up!

Example: Sometimes grown-ups get stuck in a suboptimal discipline pattern, such as yelling. If yelling isn’t working, the strong-willed child doesn’t need the grown-up to yell even louder. Volume isn’t the issue. Perhaps slowing down and peacefully getting on the child’s level would get the child’s attention better. If a solution isn’t working, it’s not the right solution.”

Why would a strong-willed or stubborn adolescent need more connection and empathy rather than harsher discipline?

It’s because teens are on the cusp of being young adults, often about to “leave the nest” for the very first time. It can feel terrifying to them. Rather than asking for more hugs (which may leave them feeling extra vulnerable and potentially incapable of caring for themselves), they may subconsciously push us away…because it feels emotionally safer than asking for support. 

They’re not being difficult. We’ve heard that “all behavior is communication,” and often, a teen’s tricky behavior is merely asking whether our connection is still strong even if they’re more independent than they used to be. 

How to discipline the strong-willed teenager:

Our job is to lean in and provide that connection, while balancing it with offering the independence that they deserve at this age. Now is the perfect time to let them practice their independence while still having a “soft place to land” with us. 

In short, we let them be “big” and “little” at the same time.

Stereotype #2: Teens are moody.

Indeed, teens are often known for being moody. Although 10 – 20% of teens (and all humans) are highly sensitive, which may occasionally present as big feelings, odds are good that your teen may be feeling tired, overwhelmed, and pressured.

Once again, connection is going to be the key here. 

How to discipline the seemingly moody teenager:

Rest, compassion, and emotional support are the keys here. Our goal is to learn to hold space for their big feelings while giving them ample time to rest. 

With all of today’s pressures, physical and emotional rest are more important than ever.

Stereotype #3: Teens are argumentative, and their backtalk is a problem that needs harsh discipline.

Talking back is actually a healthy skill for kids to learn. It’s how they’ll learn to stand up for themselves against anyone who may be inclined to mistreat them in their current or future relationships. 

We are their “safe place” to practice talking back. If we punish them for “disrespecting” us, they lose the opportunity to practice. 

Here’s what else we know about backtalk:

We’ve heard from experts like Dr. Ross Greene that all behavior is communication. The same goes for talking back. Think of talking back as communicating something deeper that the child doesn’t yet know how to peacefully articulate.

Talking back is neither “good behavior” or “bad behavior” — it’s simply an attempt to get their needs met.

Although it’s downright hard for parents to take this perspective (parenting can be challenging!), what happens when you ask, “What kind of pain is my child in that they’re acting this way?”

Children who feel good, connected, and peaceful generally exhibit what we perceive as respectful behavior. (source)

How to discipline a teen who talks back:

Again–no surprise–the answer is that we must provide them with emotional safety. The more we model what respectful communication and emotional maturity sound and feel like to them, the more they’ll learn how to express themselves in this same way. 

Parenting will get easier (again)

As with everything in parenting, it will get easier again. You will never regret investing in a loving, connection-based relationship with your child. As the expression goes, the days are long but the years are short. They truly are.

Suggestions adapted from Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science, and Better Behavior and this blog post.


Sarah R. Moore is the author of  Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior and founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. As a Master Trainer in conscious parenting and Board Member for the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, she’s also a public speaker, armchair neuroscientist, and most importantly, a Mama. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, & Twitter.

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The Joy Of Parenting: The Benefits Of Play

A Peaceful Parenting Approach To Playing With Your Child

This post contains affiliate links which may earn Eco Mom Diaries a commission.

Guest Post By Author Kiva Schuler

Parenting is the path to personal growth and transformation. Our children are our growth partners. When we become better people, they become better people.

We are going to make mistakes. And so are they. But when the foundation of mutual trust and respect is maintained and established, there’s nothing we can’t handle together.

Fulfillment is the destination of Peaceful Parenting. We fulfill our promise to give our children the guidance they need to become responsible adults. You’ll catch glimpses of nirvana as a peaceful parent. Perhaps you’ll see your children enraptured in conversation with each other or witness them simply being themselves as they play in the yard. You’ll admire their choices. Sometimes. But when you disagree with them, you know you’ll work it out, the relationship fully intact.

Grace is the path of Peaceful Parenting. It is the gift you can give yourself and your children.

And fun.

Fun is vital. So let’s play. Whether our children are two or twenty-two, there is always fun to be had.

The Joy Of Parenting: What’s Your Play Language? Mom playing with her child

Why Play?

Play is, quite literally, a child’s sacred work. It is their contribution to life, their developing sense of self, their language, their lens, and their lifeblood. But more importantly, play creates fertile soil for connection, shared positive experiences, family lore, and joyous rituals. Play is as important for parents as children.

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, the author of Play, says: “Play is something done for its own sake,” and “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

Benefits Of Play

  • Physical: Active play helps children with coordination, balance, gross and fine motor skills, and cultivating a healthy relationship with their environment. Cross-lateral movement in play (crawling, climbing, reaching across the body to retrieve objects) stimulates a healthy connection between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
  • Emotional: While playing and activating the social engagement system, children can experience strong emotions like anger, fear, shame, and sorrow, in a way that is digestible for them. Acting out these emotions and role-playing through them supports children to diffuse any pent-up painful memories of these emotions and create a secure attachment to them. This develops emotional regulation as they age. It’s never too late to begin this practice.
  • Social: Play helps children develop an awareness of social cues, empathy, collaboration, and negotiation.
  • Cognitive: Play is every child’s learning language. It ignites their social engagement system, which puts their brain at ease. When the brain is flooded with stress and pressure to learn, the brain is flooded with fear and will not retain what it’s learning.
  • Alternatively, it can begin to associate learning with stress and limiting beliefs like “I’m stupid” or “I’m not capable.” The more joy and less pressure our children experience in their learning process, the better their brains develop. Play can also improve executive functioning skills like following directions, making a plan, remembering what the parent said to the child, and executing tasks with follow-through
  • Creative: Imagination without any direction or interruption brings children to a place where “anything is possible.” This nourishes their prefrontal cortex, the space in their brain where genius occurs. Imagination IS the pathway to genius, innovation, and infinite possibilities.
  • Communication: Play allows children to practice communication in a low stakes arena.
  • They act out and practice the nonviolent communication you are modeling, and they diffuse any words of violence or other stress they have heard throughout their life.

Discovering Your Play Language

Each of us has a natural play language. To be playful is not just to be silly and active.

It’s about being connected to our natural expression of joyfulness. For some parents, playfulness means going rock climbing. For others, their idea of play is cuddling on the couch and reading books with their child. You get to be yourself in your play, and your children can be themselves!

We learn to embrace our natural language of play, filling ourselves with clarity, confidence, and security. This way, we can more easily enter our child’s play language The resentment won’t be as strong, or won’t exist, because you are grounded in what brings you joy and consciously choose to enter your child’s expression of joy. The closer you are to your joy, the more willing and calm you will be in boundary-setting with your child around playtime. You will have more energy, enthusiasm, and more SP A C E to practice and be joyful.

Permission to Thrive

So many people seem to want to connect in suffering. Complaining about kids, spouses, and neighbors becomes a social currency. You don’t need to participate.

The culture of complaint keeps us stuck focusing on what isn’t going well in our relationships. Sure, our brains will release the feel-good chemical dopamine when we engage in gossip or negative talk (we are wired to perceive this as connection), but the temporary high isn’t worth the act’s consequences.

You get to thrive as a parent. You get to LOVE parenting. You get to admire and adore your children. You get to enjoy family dinners and long car rides. Don’t believe the ideas about how parenting is supposed to look. Decide for yourself what parenting will look like on your terms.

One humble, vulnerable and authentic step at a time. The connection between parent and child is formative for both parent and child. As we realize that we are growing ourselves up as we grow them up, we can be gentler and kinder along the way.

Choose your parenting moments, meaning the times when a more assertive, firm approach is necessary. When your kids are annoying, perhaps you can simply remove yourself from the room or put on some earbuds. When they are being unsafe, you can lean in.

The kids are going to be alright.

Let them be. I don’t mean leave them alone. I mean BE. They have far more ability wisdom, creativity, and intelligence than we give them credit for. The more they have the opportunity to allow their natural gifts to shine, the more confident they will be in their natural gifts. Let. Them. Be.

So, dear parent, here’s a dose of inspiration for you. There is no better way to change the world than to change how you parent your child. Yes, they are the key to a better future for us all. But their ability to step into their destiny is wholly dependent on… YOU.

And so, truly, you hold the power to change the world. One peaceful moment at a time.

About The Author

Kiva Schuler is the Founder & CEO of The Jai Institute for Parenting, and author of her debut book, The Peaceful Parenting (R)evolution.

Kiva’s post [above] is such a great reminder that play establishes a connection between parent and child. Too often today, parents spend a great amount of time on their phones, or are buried in work, and we need to remind ourselves that children thrive emotionally and cognitively when we are present and share the joy of play.

This is just one of the many great tips that are taught in Kiva’s book “The Peaceful Parenting Revolution”. After having read this book, I have reset my mindset to be more present in play with my own child—to show that they are loved. And if you yourself are interested in learning more about peaceful parenting, an excerpt from Kiva’s book and link can be found below):

“Joy is happiness that persists regardless of external circumstances.”

I was sitting at my dining room table, having just finished eating the positively delicious breakfast my teenage son had made me for Mother’s Day.

My son stood up, picked up my plate, and said to my daughter, “Let’s do the dishes and clean up the kitchen. I’ll wash, and you dry and put away.” We chatted as they took care of me. I loved them with all of my heart. And I have made so many mistakes. And fought with them. And cried. And lost my mind. And wanted to run away. And then loved them as much as is humanly possible.

It was a peaceful, beautiful moment of caring and cooperation.

When they were finished, my son hugged me goodbye. And then he hugged his sister–his autistic sister who for so many years had made him so angry and resentful that he refused to touch her at all-and he said, “I love you SO MUCH, Maddie.”

And I realized that despite my many mistakes, I had taught my kids how to love. And be loved.

The newfound peace in my house was now met with newfound peace inside myself. Peace in knowing I had done enough–and BEEN enough–for my kids. ~Chris Irvine

The Peaceful Parenting Revolution

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