Belligerent or Self Protection?

If you have tweens and teens, at one time or another you’ve probably seen that warlike seething that sometimes seems to explode even when asked to do what you think is a simple request.  Or maybe you see it in your spouse and don’t quite understand it.  How do you respond when you ask someone to do something because you need help or maybe just because it would be something good for them to learn to do, and you are met with a resounding “NO!”?

Someone close to me has a late teen who most definitely fits in the Oppositional Defiant category.  I’ve watched my friend and her daughter in action. Regardless of what her mom asks her, the arms are crossed, the brows furrow with a scowl, then the eye roll, and you can almost watch her daughter physically dig her heels in.  Regardless of the conversation topic, you can guess the answer before the subject is even broached.  “I don’t care what you have to say.  I don’t care if you think it is in my best interest.”  The body language and then the words contain the same message, “NO!”

What is it about these tweens and teens that makes them so belligerent?  And how do you get through to them?

Come with me, if you will, on a trip down memory lane.  Remember your child when they were around two years old?  What was their favorite word?

You got it!  “No!”

What was going on in their life?  If you answered “separation”, you are right.

What’s happening now in their life?  Again, they are striving for “separation”.

A counselor friend shared some awesome thoughts on this idea of the simple word “No!”  Have you ever considered that the “No” we get from our tweens and teens might not be belligerence but self-protection?  “No” can actually be a good thing.  We want them to say “no” to peer pressure.  We want them to say “no” to drugs, sex, and alcohol.  We want them to say “no” when a new driver asks them to ride in the car with them.

So what can we do when they say “no” to us and we want them to say “yes” or at least “maybe”?

  1. Recognize that your child is a separate person from you and has a right to his/her own opinion.
  2. Get more data.  “Tell me more about why you feel so strongly about that.”
  3. Empathize and acknowledge their way of thinking.
  4. Ask them if they will at least think about your request and tell them that you’d like to talk about it later.
  5. Give them time.

One of the things you might want to consider is that God wired us with self-protection.  We didn’t teach our children to say “no”.  It is innate in all of us.

Several months ago, my husband asked me to do something for him.  It was a simple request; however, the timing was terrible.  I had my own to-do list that was overwhelming and I could feel myself seething inside, “Why can’t he do that himself?” I thought.  Luckily, I held my tongue (trust me when I say that takes lots of practice!)  Anyway, I was so ticked-off about the request that I quickly exited to our bedroom and closed the bedroom door a little too hard.

Maybe I should be honest here, I slammed the door.

As I stood there fuming, talking to myself in the bedroom, eventually I  managed to calm myself down.  Suddenly, I busted out laughing.  You see, I’m no different than my children!  I wasn’t trying to be belligerent to my husband (after all I didn’t say what was on my mind!), but I was in a mode of self-protection.

What I needed was TIME!

Time to calm myself down, time to re-think the request, time for my brain to recognize that my husband wasn’t trying to harm me in any way.

All I needed was time to recognize that it was a simple request.  I needed to recognize that my husband loves me and would never want to hurt me in any way.

So I apologized for my door slamming.  I admitted that I was upset.  Then I explained what I was feeling and offered to do what he requested…because I love him.

How about you?  Can you give your tweens and teens an opportunity to think differently from you?  Can you give them time to work from “no” to “maybe” or “yes” before you start issuing ultimatums thinking they are just being belligerent?

Here’s some ways to to think about the conversation with your tweens and teens after they’ve stomped off to their bedroom or thrown a hissy-fit over your request.  Hopefully, they’ll come back to you and apologize if you give them TIME.

If they haven’t come back to you within a day or two, maybe you need to initiate the conversation.  Either way (without emotion) the conversation might go like this:

  1. Honey, I obviously upset you with my request to ___________.  Help me understand why doing that was so difficult for you at that point in time.  I really want to understand your reaction.  (Give them time to tell you what they were thinking/feeling in the moment.)
  2. Validate their feelings or offer understanding.  Example:  Since you felt like the teachers were unfair in how much homework they gave you, I can see how my request seemed like one more thing for you to do.
  3. Continue to let your child explain and continue to validate.
  4. I hope you know that our family is a team and we need everyone to pitch in.  I love you and I want you to be successful in every area of your life.  Responding to a request and talking it through if there is an issue in the moment is a skill that most of us have to learn at some point in our lives.  Teachers make requests and you have to complete the assignments.  When you get a job, bosses will make requests and you’ll have to follow through.  Doing what you’ve been asked, or explaining why you can’t do what was requested in the moment without getting upset, is a sign of respect to the other person as well as an opportunity to show maturity.  Do you understand that?
  5. Let your child further explain.  Negotiate when they are going to respond to your original request.  And give your child a hug.

I love how the Weymouth New Testament words Ephesians 6:4 – 

And you, fathers, do not irritate your children, but bring them up tenderly with true Christian training and advice.

Dare you to allow your spouse, your tweens, or your teens time to think about your request.  If you do, you might find that what you think is belligerence is really just self-protection.  Time might change their mind and attitude.

“Let go…and let God”,





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