4 Ways to Handle Teenage Defiance and Rebellion

Back talk, eye-rolling, disrespect - if you live with a teenager, these are probably very familiar experiences. But they don't have to be. Savvy Psychologist, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, joins Mighty Mommy with 4 expert tips on how to minimize defiant behavior.

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #302

Tip #3: Catch your child being good and then label the good quality.  This is a great tip from the classic book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  Praise your child when they do show respect.  

Be specific in your praise and wrap the compliment in a nice, neat bow by giving the behavior a positive label.  For example: “Thanks so much for holding the door for that lady with the stroller. You were really respectful to her.”  Or “I really appreciate that you unloaded the dishwasher without sighing or rolling your eyes.  That’s what I call respect.”  Your child gets a three-fer: 1) knowledge that you actually notice positive behavior, 2) the positive reinforcement of a sincere compliment, and 3) a positive trait to apply to himself.  And you don’t have to limit it to verbal praise: leave a note on her pillow, tuck one in a lunchbox, or tape one to his door.  

Tip #4: Don’t expect immediate compliance.  In a world of Google, we get millions of instantaneous responses.  But your kid needs some time to process.  In the moment, state your case (respectfully) and walk away.  They’ll think about it.  Regarding praise, you may have to give compliments and appreciation for weeks before they trust your sincerity.  They may think you’re just trying to mess with them and may even escalate the disrespect at first.  But keep it up - no kid has the energy to be disrespectful in the face of genuine respect, cooperation, and compliments.  Eventually they’ll feel guilty, start to crave the approval, and you’ll see some change.  

They won’t be able to help it and will treat you with more respect.

Click here to read the second part of this episode: How to effectively use consequences to minimize defiance.

Besides How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, a good book on this topic is 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child by Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein.  And for the really big stuff like drug abuse, promiscuity, and suicide threats, try the excellent and surprisingly humorous Parenting Your Out of Control Teenager, by Dr. Scott P. Sells.


Thank you to Dr. Hendriksen for these helpful tips. You can check out the Savvy Psychologist podcast at QuickandDirtyTips.com/Savvy-Psychologist or subscribe to the show on iTunes.

If you have a defiant teen in your life, try out these suggestions. I'd love to hear how they worked for your family. And if you have any other strategies for dealing with a defiant teen, share them in the Comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com

Defiant teen image courtesy of Shutterstock.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.