6 Ways to Handle a Defiant Teen (Without Yelling)

If you’ve got tweens and teens in your life, you’ve most likely been the recipient of backtalk or other defiant actions.  Mighty Mommy is a parent to 6 teens, so here are 6 ways that you can respond positively to your defiant teen and keep the peace at home.

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #265

Remember when you first looked lovingly into your sweet baby’s eyes? When his newborn coos could melt your heart in an instant?

And now, 15 years later, as you try to stay patient through his attitude and smug, hurtful remarks - are you left wondering what the heck happened?

If you’ve got tweens and teens in your life, you’ve most likely been the recipient of backtalk or other defiant actions.  Unfortunately, this type of behavior is the norm of the teen parenting package. But don't despair! Positive change can happen in your family if you’re willing to invest some time dealing with it. 


For parents, the key is to handle that nasty and exasperating behavior in a way that calmly and consistently shows your child that you are in control and that you will not tolerate it.  Mighty Mommy has 6 teens in her life right now, so here are 6 ways that you can respond positively to your defiant teen and keep the peace at home:

Tip #1:  Never Assume the Reason Behind a Teen's Bad Behavior

Your child’s defiant behavior is actually the symptom of the actual problem. Don’t guess or assume that your child is acting out based on what you see.  If your son is belligerent towards you when he returns from school, it might not be that he hates algebra and is taking it out on you. Maybe he’s finding it hard to make friends and is feeling like an outcast.  That doesn’t excuse his poor behavior, but when he’s in the comfort of his own home, he can let his guard down and therefore targets his frustration toward those closest to him, usually his parents and siblings.

Try tracking your child’s behavior for a short period of time and notice what situations or feelings seem to trigger the aggression or defiant outbursts.  If you notice a pattern where he’s unloading his anger every day when he comes home from school, once he calms down later that evening ask him if you can talk about what you’ve noticed.  “Hey, it’s pretty obvious that when you get home from school you’re miserable and you’re taking it out on Dad and me. What's up? How can we help you?”  He may completely ignore your attempt, but if you start from a place of trying to understand what’s going on, you’re letting him know that you care and that you want to help him - rather than just casting blame.

Tip #2:  Connect With Your Teen Often

This tip may sound like a no brainer but it’s actually quite simple—kids want to know that they rate in our busy lives.  We all get caught up in the grind of work, running a household, trying to keep on top of finances and bills, and when it comes to family life with our older kids we tend to let things slide. We don't enforce sharing family meals together on a regular basis, we don't hang out after dinner and chat about what’s going on in their social world, with their sports’ teams, or any other aspects of their daily lives. 

Maybe it’s because when we do try to engage them, they blow us off with a sigh or a sarcastic eye roll. But it’s important to keep trying so that they’ll see you’re making a heartfelt effort.  Many times kids will act out when they feel they’re being ignored.  Look for opportunities throughout your busy day and week to connect with them on a consistent basis.  By doing so, you’re sending her an important message—you are important to me!

Tip #3:  Involve Your Kids in Problem Solving

My oldest son, now 19, went through a couple of very difficult years (ages 11 – 13) where he was completely negative about nearly every aspect of his life.  Not only was he doom and gloom, he had a quick temper and nearly anything we asked of him would result in a verbal attack.  We tried analyzing a pattern, took every opportunity we could to engage him when he was home, offered to let him see a therapist if he thought that would help, reached out to his closest friends to see if they knew what was going on, yet we continually fell short.

Finally, after a visit with our pediatrician we had a breakthrough.  During her routine questions at the beginning of the check-up, the doctor asked him what subjects he liked best at school.  He told her he liked science the best because it was the one subject where he wasn’t the dumbest kid in the class.  She shared this with us privately.  My son had learning difficulties and an IEP (Individual Education Plan) for most of his school life, but he always made an effort during school (completely hiding his negativity while there) because he didn’t want anyone to know how bothered he was that he learned differently from his peers. 

See also: 8 Ways to Create a Fulfilling Life With Your Special Needs Child


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.