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

Although we got to the root of the problem, the negative outbursts continued for several months after, so we decided to focus on a solution rather than the problem.  We asked him how he could better control his behavior because it was draining not only us, but ultimately him as well.  He thought about for a couple of weeks and then asked if he could work with a tutor twice a week outside of the house and for us to stop micro-managing his school assignments.  Overall, he was still a C+ student, but once we backed off and gave him his breathing room, he started to relax, got involved with school sports, and his defiant behaviors went from 90% to less than 10%.  Hes in college now and doing great!

Tip #4:  Be Compassionate, Not Forceful

No one likes to be told what to do.  And yet research shows that the average parent gives dozens of orders every day, most in a negative tone. If your child is continually challenging you, consider how you can help him or her tackle more responsibility, instead of making him or her feel bossed around. 

Some suggestions on how you can confront bad behavior with compassion rather than force are:

  • Stop, drop (everything else), and breathe.  Since your buttons are pushed, you need to get calm before you address the defiance.

  • Reinforce your expectation about the standard of respect in your family:  "You know we don't speak to each other that way in this house."

  • Give your child a chance to correct himself while you reopen communication: "I know you didn't mean to be disrespectful.  I do want to hear what you have to say. Can we try a do-over?"

  • Stay compassionate. Say "Ouch!  That was pretty rude...You must really be angry to speak to me that way. I try to always speak respectfully to you. What's going on?"

  • Listen to your child patiently: "Oh GOD This is SO Boring. Please Kill Me, I see. I'm so sorry, I didn't realize that was happening. Thanks for telling me."  Remain calm and listen. You need to give the teenager the chance to vent all those pent-up feelings that cause them to feel disconnected and angry.

See also:  5 Ways to Be a More Playful Parent


Tip #5:  Reduce Environmental Stressors

It’s not uncommon for a child to act out due to things outside his control in his home environment.  These stresses could be overt, such as marital fighting or physical or mental health problems of the parents or primary caregivers. Or they could be more subtle such as the child’s exposure to too much TV, a poor diet, or aggressive music and video games. Family instability, including economic stress, parental illness, harshly punitive behaviors, inconsistent parenting practices, multiple moves, and divorce may also contribute to the development of oppositional and defiant behaviors.

Take inventory of these outside influences and try and reduce and eliminate as many negative influences on your child as possible, while promoting a more healthful lifestyle for the whole family.  That doesn't mean you have to be a pushover, however.  Children, even teens, crave structure and boundaries so choose consequences that hold some impact, such as restricted access to electronic devices, and don't waiver and give second chances.  Demonstrating firm and consistent parenting is one of the average gifts you can give to your child.

See also: 8 Ways to Lighten Your Parenting Load


Tip #6:  Reinforce Compliant Behaviors

One of my absolute favorite parenting strategies is to build on the positive—and do so frequently when it is deserved.  The more positive attention a teen gets for being compliant, the less negative attention he'll look for by being defiant.  So in other words, get into the habit of consistently catching your child doing something good.  If your teen offers to give his younger sister a few bucks for treats when she’s at the movies, let him know how much you appreciate it.  “Hey Jake, I think it’s great that you let Amanda have money for popcorn at the movies—I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.  She’s lucky to have you as her brother.”  

See also: 8 Strategies for Dealing With a Defiant Child


Do you have a defiant teen? What strategies work for you?  Share your thoughts in the comment section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy or post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.  Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

One of our most important jobs is to show teens appropriate, healthy ways to behave as we give them some problem-solving tools to deal with stresses and frustration. A defiant child can certainly test every ounce of parenting patience we have, but if we remain calm, loving and act consistently, these negative behaviors can be turned into positive ones.  Happy parenting everyone!

I am hugely indebted to psychologist Dr. Laura Markham and her site AhaParenting.com for her invaluable advice on handling the challenges of parenting.

Defiant teen and other images 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.