My 15-year-old daughter is fighting with everyone all the time

Our household has become very tense how can we improve things?

You can take steps to encourage your daughter to communicate more positively.

You can take steps to encourage your daughter to communicate more positively.

 

Question: How would you suggest dealing with a 15-year-old girl who, over the last few months, has become really angry. She curses all the time and is constantly aggressive and moody.

She is always flippant and sarcastic with me and she can be particularly aggressive with her mum. Recently, I have seen her bully her mum about doing things for her and this really annoys me.

And it is not just us. She has even had a falling out with her two closest friends recently, mainly because of the way she flies off the handle and is fighting with them.

She is making our household very tense and it needs to stop, but we’re not getting through to her. Any advice? 

Answer: Lots of teenagers go through a rebellious and difficult patch when they are challenging, moody and aggressive. Though very stressful to deal with as a parent, unfortunately it can be part of the territory of the teenage years. However, this does not mean that you simply put up your daughter’s behaviour. You can take steps to encourage her to communicate more positively.  

Try to understand what might be going on for her

When faced by a sudden onset of disrespect and “rebellion” from a teenager, it can feel quite bewildering. In general, the teenage years are marked by a rollercoaster of hormones and moods, with highs and lows and an intensity or emotions that teenagers have not felt before. With academic pressures in school, pressures to fit in and find friends, as well as feeling self-conscious and awkward, it can be a really difficult time. Also, as they become more independent and separate from their parents, they can become more private and more critical of the older generation. As a result they may not communicate directly with their parents about what is going on for them and you experience their distress in a barrage of emotions. 

With your own daughter, it is important to take a pause and try to understand what in particular might be going on for her over the last few months. What pressures is she under and what is she struggling with at the moment? It strikes me as significant that she is “fighting” with friends. Perhaps she is feeling isolated in her social group or struggling with peer pressure or maybe there are other things going on in school. Trying to be empathetic and understanding is the first step to helping her.

Keeping lines of communication open

When teenagers are in a rebellious phase, usually their relationship with their parents suffers and positive communication can stop. Because of the fights, you can stop talking to one another and you can have less fun times together. This all comes at a time in life when teenagers naturally open up less to their parents and turn to their peers for support. However, it is during these difficult times that you most have to keep the lines of communication open. You have to find new ways of reaching out to your daughter and you have to work extra hard at keeping connected to her.

The best way to do this is to not constantly talk about all the problems that are happening, but instead to try and build moments of connection and daily conversation with her. When do you have the best chats with your daughter? Despite the rows, are there times when you get on a little better? In the face of challenges, some parents find little moments when they get on better with their teens, such as travelling to an activity together or late at night when you are one to one, or engaging in banter as you watch a TV programme or sports game together. Building these small connections is the way forward.

Helping her open up and talk to you

Creating ordinary times of chatting and talking will create the conditions for your daughter to open up and talk about the rows and what is going for her. You might want to let her know that you are there for her by picking a good time to say something like “you seem to have been a bit out of sorts lately” or “you seem to be getting into lots of fights lately, is there anything bothering you?”. It is quite likely that she won’t immediately tell you what is on her mind, and often it is a case of putting out the message that you are ready and willing to listen – “just so you know, I’m here to listen whenever you are ready to talk”. 

Address disrespect

As well as listening, it is important to hold you daughter to account for her disrespect. When your daughter is aggressive or disrespectful it is important to have a prepared plan for how you will deal with it. The temptation is to meet “fire with fire” – when she shouts, you shout back – however this only escalates things and reduces your authority. Instead it is important to respond respectfully and firmly in a way that teaches her how to communicate. For example, you might calmly say “I know you are upset, but you can’t speak rudely like that to your mum” or “tell me how you are feeling, but don’t take your feelings out on me”. It can be very powerful to encourage her to take a break when these rows happen and then to follow up later – “sounds like you are in the horrors at moment, take a break and we will talk later”. Also, it can be useful to make some of her privileges dependent on her communicating well to encourage her to take responsibility for her behaviour – “listen, you will lose credit for your phone anytime you start rowing, you have to be polite at home”.

You can make her daily screentime or pocket money dependent on her making an effort to get on with everyone. For more information on using rewards and consequences, see my book Positive Parenting or some more of my articles on irishtimes.com.

– John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. See solutiontalk.ie for details of courses and articles.

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