Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 9, 2010

Ask Evelyn: Calm temper around teens

Local columnist

---- — Note to readers: I still plan to do a column on the issue of testing in kindergarten later this month. Now, however, there are a few other questions in my e-mails.

Q: I find myself absolutely losing it with my young teenage sons and just screaming at them when they break a rule that I know they understand perfectly. I know this is ridiculous and certainly not good modeling. Maybe you can suggest some extra tricks I could try, along with counting to 10 or 20. — D.M.

A: Yes, it takes time and courage to give teens guidance without losing your temper, especially when you've already told them about the behavior you expect. Staying objective and not overreacting with teens (particularly if you tend to fly off the handle) is tough but crucial. If you feel you are starting to lose control say, "I'm feeling hurt and upset (or furious) right now, but I do want to talk about this with you reasonably. I want to work this out with you, but I can't handle it right now. I need some time to think. So let's set a time to talk later today."

A parent I once knew made a list to look at when she needed it, just to remind herself that we need to focus on a bigger picture and not sweat the small stuff. Here it is:

• Sometimes I will get angry with my children because I am normal.

• It is a given that kids sometimes WILL misbehave, sometimes more than other times.

• It's frustrating and disappointing when they misbehave, but it's not a disaster or the end of the world. I can tolerate and live through it.

• When my kids misbehave, their behavior is not acceptable, and they are breaking a rule, PERIOD. This does not mean I am a bad or ineffective parent, or that the kids have become bad people destined for a life of crime.

• My kids sometimes will make mistakes, even when they know the rules and understand the rules. But they can learn from mistakes, as all of us do.

• When my children misbehave I can help them most by giving them a meaningful penalty based on logical consequences of the behavior whenever possible.

• I may have to ask myself if my expectations for their age are too high; if so, I can adjust them.

• If I find myself yelling repeatedly about the same old things each day, what I'm doing is not working, and I need to stop and rethink my strategies and try something else, such as making contracts with them.

• I may need to ask myself if I am giving my kids enough feedback about the things I DO like and not just telling them what I don't like. I need to give praise for the good stuff.

• I need to think about how much time I spend each day just talking at them and repeating myself without ever listening to them. Do I know their ideas and dreams and fears? I used to know. I need to remember that teens are still kids, even if they look like adults.

Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at For more columns from Evelyn Petersen, visit