How do I deal with my naughty son

Talk to young people without them "closing up"

Dealing with insecure self-esteem

For a few years you will deal with a child whose image of himself is still blurred and subject to strong fluctuations, whose self-confidence can easily be unbalanced by just small shocks. That often makes dealing with him very difficult. Sometimes it is bursting with overconfidence, then again it is plagued by self-doubt. Sometimes you can talk to him very sensibly, other times it takes the most harmless remark wrong.

Even when dealing with much more stable adults, conversations can be particularly effective and satisfactory for both if neither feels attacked by the other in their self-esteem.

An example: Her boss comes to a clerk and asks: "Is the offer for company X ready?" This is a very factual question that the woman can answer with a simple yes or no, as long as she does not have to suspect that it is a criticism of her pace of work. But in the last few days she has been left with an unusually large amount. She feels overwhelmed, but fears that the boss will criticize her for that. Therefore, instead of yes or no, she answers quite emotionally: "I only have two hands, I can't do witches!"

At the moment when self-esteem is in danger, the person concerned can no longer react objectively. He lowers his visor and begins to defend himself. It is not important whether the other really wanted to attack him. The decisive factor is whether he feels attacked.

The boss, who values ​​his employee and wants to go back to the factual discussion level, now has to calm down the clerk's disturbed self-esteem. “I know”, he can say, “there has been a lot to do in the last few days”.

As soon as the woman realizes that her boss did not want to attack her, the conversation can continue on a factual level, they can jointly consider by when the offer will be ready.

This is especially true for young people who actually feel constantly attacked.

It is all too easy for them to experience factual remarks as hurtful criticism. The teacher who criticizes the style in a student's essay easily catches the snotty answer: "That's just my style, you don't have to like it!" Or the mother, who makes a comment about too intense painting on her daughter's face, gets to hear: “You're just jealous that you don't look so good anymore”.

Not so…

In such a case, you can now also react offended. How did that stupid brat come to throw something like that at you when you gave nothing more than a polite criticism!

Perhaps the rude remark hits a bad spot in your self-esteem. And so you give back in the same caliber, because a coarse wedge belongs on a coarse block, at least that's what you think at the moment. "You look like a walking ink box, I would be ashamed to go out on the street like that!"

In this way a remark that should awaken insight easily turns into a battle of words with heavy, injurious guns. Both partners fight with their visors down, they don't let anything in, just give back.

Parents who react in this way certainly do so with a certain justification. They too do not want to be attacked so suddenly. And they want to teach their child that they shouldn't treat others like that. It's just not wise. Because this message will also be lost in the heat of the moment.

... but like this:

We, the more stable, self-confident ones, have to create a healing climate for the ailing self-esteem, have to make concessions and guidelines, even if this is often difficult for us, even if we are often not thanked for it with the same behavior.

So how could you have acted differently?

In contrast to the boss in the first example, you really wanted to report a criticism. In which formulation does it have the greatest chance of being heard on a factual level without provoking a defensive stance?

"Tell me, do you want to go to the carnival?"

This remark is supposed to sound funny and to soften the critical. But it's ironic, and people with poor self-esteem react to it like a red rag. You are certain to receive a sloppy answer or a slammed door.

"You look impossible!"

This remark not only criticizes a certain peculiarity, but rather broadly and individually incomprehensible the whole guy. That must offend someone who has just prepared himself with a lot of effort. So please be more specific:

“You look like you've tasted blood”.

Do you think ...? Find? Your daughter doesn't think so, and you'll be hearing about it in a moment. It really is like that. There are many women who paint their lips blood red and look pretty good with it.

You just think that doesn't match your daughter's delicate, young face. You are also very unfamiliar with seeing your child dressed up like a woman. And you think that this is not your age and that it will also appear strange to other people.

Then put it that way!

Above all, don't say, "You look like," You are ... but rather "I think that ..."

This may seem like word cosmetics to you, but it isn't.

All remarks that begin with “You are…” or even “You are a…” apply the criticism directly to the other, attach something to it, and do not allow critical distance between the interlocutors. The verdict is ready, that's it.

Such remarks get very close to the self-esteem of the other and are therefore easily experienced as an attack.

“I think that ...” starts with your own opinion. It reports on your own thoughts, impressions, sensations and leaves it up to the other person to join in or to put a different opinion next to it. Sentences with “I think…”, “I think…” invite dialogue, discussion - “… and what do you think?”

But let's assume that a remark, no matter how carefully chosen, provoked your daughter to give a snotty answer. She felt attacked even though you didn't want to attack her.

Even though you're angry, you don't want to face a battle of words with your visor down. So, like the boss in the first example, you first have to caress your daughter's irritable self-esteem a little. “Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. I just like you better without so much color. "

However, if you are too angry and cannot muster this self-control, it is better to break off the conversation now. That is definitely better than indulging in the hurtful style. If your daughter is interested in your opinions, and most of the time it is, she will soon try to be less rude.

Try to create an atmosphere that shows your child: I like you.

  • I basically consider you a valuable and lovable person, even if I criticize some of your behavior.
  • I am interested in what you think and say. It is important to me to hear your opinions, even if sometimes I cannot share them.
  • I want to try to see things with your eyes to understand you.
  • I try to respect your right to self-determination, even if it is sometimes difficult for me because I want to protect you.

To stay in our picture:

  • You can leave your visor open. I want to look at you, I don't want to hurt you.

The climate must be free from harmful influences

If we want to create a climate that heals uncertainty, we have to consciously avoid some particularly damaging influences. These also apply not only, but especially, to dealing with young people.

Better to pay attention to positive approaches than constantly picking on negative ones.

Suppose your son, in a fit of tidiness, has removed two piles of clothes, brochures, toys, and bicycle parts from the floor of his room. Only the third one under the window is still there.

Now you can look at it like the famous glass of water that is either half full or half empty. You can be happy that two piles are gone, that even your scissors that you had been missing for so long were shown again. However, you can also say, “And why is the pile under the window still there? You can never really finish anything! "

Which reaction is likely to be more likely that the third stack will also disappear in the foreseeable future? And even if he stays there forever - your son's experience during his campaign is that it is better to live with sorted clothes, that things reappear that had disappeared. That counts!

If you have to criticize - don't generalize.

The more general you formulate, the more likely the comment will be perceived as an attack.

Never criticize the whole person, always only criticize individual behaviors.
Eliminate labels like “junkie”, “sloppy”, “fashion doll”, “lazy” or even “loser” from your vocabulary.

Stick to individual, concrete, comprehensible points.

  • So not: "How did you make yourself up again!" Instead: "I think the sweater doesn't go with the pants at all."
  • Do not say, “You are always late” but rather, “This is the second time you are late this week”.
  • Not: “You always have to have the last word”, but: “Please let me finish”.

Such generalizations also have the fateful effect of acting like a “self fulfilling prophecy”, like a prediction that fulfills itself.

With contractions such as “again and again”, “constantly”, “continuously”, and even more so with titles such as “You are a…”, you set a human child who is still searching for certain behaviors, ignoring others in between who are certainly also present. The alleged junk shop can sometimes be quite brisk. She doesn't always dawdle. But if you call her that often enough, she may include this label in her self-image.

Don't attack the image of yourself that a young person is experimenting with.

Because it is precisely at this point that it will be particularly sensitive. Don't tell your daughter, who in your opinion forces her rounded shapes to be too tight and flashy clothes, that she looks “vulgar”. Or your son, you would find the cult around his upper arm muscles ridiculous. “I don't like it at all”, you can say that, but you probably shouldn't like it either.

Most importantly, never be arrogant or ironic.

Irony always brings out a certain distance and critical superiority. And less self-confident people are always particularly sensitive to this.

If your son ponders for hours about whether he should pick up his beloved from the bus or not, when your daughter sees the world collapse because of a pimple on her nose, don't let it shine through that one of us would be happy if he had such small problems again . At fifteen you would have seen it differently!

And don't grin when your daughter comes up with fantastic ideas for a fairer distribution of wealth in the world. It is gratifying that she is busy with it. And Karl Marx did not write his “Kapital” when he was fourteen either.

Arrogance and irony are the surest way to make children resign and fall silent. Why should you tell the old people something if they don't want to understand?

What appears in the behavior of young people like excessive overestimation of oneself and cheeky arrogance is often a typical feature of experienced weakness.

The constantly nagging feeling of inferiority can only be drowned out by behavior that comes across as overly self-confident.

If parents react to this with pressure and reprimand, they make their child even more aware of their inferiority; they have to inflate themselves even more to compensate for that. On the other hand, it only helps to pay more attention to and promote the positive sides of a young person. To show more appreciation than criticism and blame. But that's darn hard when you keep feeling attacked and angry.

Remember, when your daughter or son is showing off in a particularly loud mouth again. Perhaps someone is singing here in the dark basement, it is possible that things are painstakingly inflated here, which is actually small and vulnerable.

Nobody understands me!

This sentence could stand as a leitmotif over the puberty years of some adolescents.

Girls, in particular, are often unhappy in their booth - not in the mood for anything, cross with their old people, their buddies, and the whole world at all. Everyone wants to feel sick to them, everyone is quasi queuing up to step on their feet. In this mood they are very unpleasant contemporaries - for themselves and for others.

But this sentence could also be a mother's sigh, who, in an effort to please everyone, has once again sat between all stools. She has just tried to mediate in the dispute between father and daughter - wanted to cushion the daughter's rude expression, wanted the father to have more understanding for the daughter's wishes.

Your husband is resentful. Now she has to endure the stiff air. And? Does the daughter thank her? Couldn't she volunteer to help with the renovation? She flown out - up and away with this windy young man whom his mother likes so little. On top of the cautiously phrased accusation, she added a snotty remark. She is selfish and ungrateful. Her husband will soon triumph: "There you see what you have got from your good-naturedness!"

The daughter also feels thoroughly misunderstood. She thinks the mother's partisanship was too half-hearted. Ultimately, both parents are always picking on her. Mother often acts so understandingly, but when it comes down to it, she pinches. But the father also feels misunderstood. Hasn't he always tried very hard for his daughter? Do women now have to portray him as a jealous pasha? Why does his wife have to stab him in the back all the time? Your support for the daughter is completely uncritical. Monkey love is that!

Whole families get tangled up in mutual misunderstandings, disappointments, unspoken reproaches and insults, especially in times when children want to become independent. Everyone interprets something into the words and actions of the other and considers his view of things to be the only correct one, of course. Everyone is mad at the other, nobody understands the other, some not even themselves.

What can we do to understand each other better?

"Just listen to me first!"

People sometimes talk like they are playing ping pong. One says something, the other one comments on it. When he stops, the other spins his thread, then the second his own.

  • Each just waits for the other to take a break to continue with his view of things.
  • Everyone tries to convince the other of his opinion without really getting involved in the other's.

To stay in the picture:

  • Everyone hits back the other's ball immediately instead of catching it, looking at it from all sides and only then giving it back. That would be annoying when playing ping-pong, but not when talking.

If we want to get involved in the point of view, in the thoughts of another, we must first try to see things through their eyes in order to understand them.

  • Do not reply to every remark made by your counterpart with a comment.
  • First, try to understand what he or she really means, for adults as well as children.

Let's say your son comes home from school:

The first sentence of a conversation is often just a preliminary skirmish, an expression of feelings, a feeling of the other person's willingness to talk.
"What a crap!"
You can respond to this (like a ping-pong player) with a lesson on what to say and what not to say as a well-bred person. But you can also leave it. Instead, you can search for the source of the anger."What was it that annoyed you so much?" "Bettina is a stupid cow!" If you answer now: "I think Bettina is your girlfriend?" the conversation develops in a completely different direction.

You will only find out the reason for this judgment if you refrain from commenting and first listen, only gently encourage people to continue speaking. Perhaps you will gradually find out that there was trouble at school because Bettina did not want him to be copied during class. The teacher caught him trying to look into the book, relieved him of his work and gave him a six.

You don't need to tell him that your son was dependent on copying because yesterday he had planned the time he needed to repeat yesterday, that he basically deserved the bad censorship, he knows that himself. But if you tell him, he will likely lower his visor and defend himself furiously.

Do not provoke defensive maneuvers

When parents talk to their children, they often do so more from an educational point of view than from a communication-psychological point of view.

  • I, your mother, your father, tell you something so that you, my child, draw your conclusions from them and act accordingly.
  • If I'm right about it, you should see that and not be offended.
  • If you slam the doors on a harmless remark, that's naughty!

But that's not how it works.

Conversations with our children are subject to the same rules, we make the same mistakes, fall into the same traps, and have to reckon with the same reactions as adults do when talking to one another. Above all, the style in which we talk to our children should serve as a model for them of how we would like to be addressed by them, how they can also talk to others. The pedagogical style does not do that. This can only be achieved by a style of conversation in which the same rules apply to everyone.

If a person feels attacked in his self-esteem by a response, he defends himself with typical defensive maneuvers.

In your son's example, it could look like this:

Perhaps he would respond to accusations and admonitions:
"Just don't pretend that you never wrote off when you were at school!"
Your own mistake becomes more bearable if you can accuse the other of the same.
If you take this ball now and say something about your own school achievements, you will be back to playing ping pong.

Another defensive maneuver: If I make myself bigger, the attack can kill me
not make the other so small:
“Do you think I mind the stupid six? Once I'm famous, I won't bother with that shit any more. "

Or to put it another way: You defend your own greatness by making the other small:

"You are only interested in my grades anyway, and not how I am."

If you recognize these defensive maneuvers, you know that you have attacked the self-esteem of the other person.

Then you can avoid responding with a defensive maneuver on your part; if you refrain from commenting, the conversation can continue openly.

Have I understood that correctly?

Attentive listening not only helps you to see the experience of the other person through their eyes and to empathize with their feelings. Above all, it also helps them to become clearer about what happened, what they felt and what conclusions they want to draw from it. That helps him a lot more than your admonitions.

Sometimes you will not immediately realize what your child is actually trying to tell you. Perhaps it has put it in a clumsy way, or perhaps it is not yet clear to him himself.

You can help yourself and him if, again instead of responding, you simply first say what you have understood, what you have received. And not so much the words, but the emotional background. So on "Such a shit" for example: "You seem to have been very angry."

Without words, you also communicate: “I have extended my antennas, I am trying to understand, keep talking”. Your son can then continue with: "Yes, because ..." If you have not understood something correctly, or if he does not like your feedback, he can say: “No, not that, but ...”, and so put the whole thing in order. In this way, both of you can gradually clarify together what was actually so annoying, so enjoyable, so sad.

If you hold back with replies and comments, your son may even dare to make a self-critical remark about his story, say something himself that you shouldn't have said to him. But he can only do that if he does not have to fear an attack on his damaged self-esteem from you.

Talking self-critically about your own weaknesses or mistakes is particularly difficult for young people.

Here, insight and self-criticism are the only way to make a reliable change. You can also think of it as a snail slowly and carefully stretching its antennae out of the protective house. One rough touch and she pulls it back again.

Critical, condescending, ironic parental remarks are such rough touches.
Don't make things difficult for the snail.

Be open about what you think, feel, want

Now that doesn't mean that you should treat your growing children like raw eggs and maybe treat your partner as well. That you should always think about what could be angry with whom and under which aspect, and then keep it to yourself. On the contrary. The older your children get, the more they can understand psychological relationships. When the children were younger you had to stifle some bitter reactions because the children would not have understood them, now you have to do less and less. You can also talk to young people about their own fears and inadequacies, about conflicting and conflicting feelings. You and the children are increasingly becoming equal partners in whom each must understand, endure and show consideration for each other's feelings.

Children like it when they are told clearly what is going on.

Mothers, on the other hand, are often more inclined to covert statements and appeals. They don't want to fall into the house like that, they want to be considerate and not offend anyone. A woman whose husband comes home from work much too late therefore often does not say: “I am angry because you often come home so late, I would like you to come earlier”, but with a softly reproachful undertone: “ You're coming so late again ”. She hopes that the man hears the appeal from this factual remark without becoming angry. At least if he loves her.

Such covert appeals are often more successful because they are able to undermine the resistance and defenses of the other. In response to an open appeal, you risk a clear rejection: “If it were that easy, I would do it. Its not possible." That offends. The quiet reproach and the sad eyes may make the man more likely to change something.
However, it can also be that he reacts allergically to this “secret tour”, that he ultimately prefers clear words.

Mothers often use this method of covert utterance with their children.

But children don't like such covert appeals. You often feel uncertain about the interpretation. They want to know where they are.

Let's say your daughter asks if she can stay with her friend.
They answer: “Yes, yes, just go. It's always nicer somewhere else than at home. " But your wrinkled expression does not match the clearly formulated consent. That unsettles you. Or it makes you annoying. Because your daughter senses that you disagree, but how much and why, she cannot tell from your reaction. But if it really works then you resent. Resentment is also a covert reaction that encourages misunderstandings because it allows for different interpretations. And since the one who takes offense is mostly silent, the other cannot check whether his interpretation is correct.

Say clearly and openly what does not suit you.

Children are often very thick-skinned when faced with covert appeals. Even if you understand, you don't want to. What is the name of Goethe? “You notice the intention and you are out of tune”. In Berlin they also say: “Nightingale, ick hear you trap”.

For example, you've been annoyed for months that your son never goes shopping on his own, at most he writes his wishes on the shopping roll. Again and again you throw tips: "Why do I always have to go shopping?" “It's nice to have your waitress like that”. “I would like to experience ...” And then you get angry because nothing happens. Just say clearly, "I want you to do the shopping today."

It is of no use if parents of growing children swallow their own feelings and disappointments for the sake of peace, or at most let them out in such subtle hints. That doesn't suit the parents and neither does the children.

Parents who feel comfortable in their own skin because they don't turn their hearts into a murderer's pit, parents who are at peace with themselves are also better parents.

Mothers and fathers who are hesitant in their expressions expect the same from their children. But children have far fewer scruples when it comes to their choice of words than we do, and they often go wrong. Perhaps you will succeed in not asking yourself: “Why does the kid offend me so?” With such a statement, but rather: “What annoys him so?”

But if you don't succeed, if his cheekiness makes you upset, then say so - loudly and vehemently if you have to. Say goodbye to the idea that in a good, intact family you always have to talk to each other in a well-tempered and balanced way.

Loud outbursts of emotion, violent but reasonably fair arguments can have a cleansing effect like a thunderstorm. That's why I keep it with the sentence, especially when dealing with adolescents: Better to quarrel every day than not to talk at all.

Talk is gold, silence is silver

But let's not forget, despite all the enthusiasm for clarifying discussions, that not everyone is constantly in the mood to talk about everything, even in the most benevolent atmosphere.

Sometimes young people react very grumpily to questions or the offer of talks.

  • You feel questioned.
  • They don't want to talk about it.
  • You first want to come to terms with something yourself or prefer to discuss the whole thing with friends.

Then further drilling is inadmissible and harmful. Because if I get too close to someone else, that also means disregarding their privacy. And adolescents are particularly allergic to it.

Questioning seduces you to lie!

If parents push too hard, they tempt their children to offer them a cheap excuse as an answer so that they are left alone. Therefore, at any age and to any question, the answer: "I don't want to talk about that now" should be allowed.

It is a necessary vote of confidence and a recognition of the child's autonomy to allow such a response, even if it is sometimes difficult. Especially if you are concerned about something, you probably want to know what is going on. However, you are not allowed to force it.

Also, never let yourself be tempted to secretly read letters or diary entries from your children.

This is such a serious and consequential breach of trust that it can only be justified by mortal danger.

The feat you have to do is offer yourself without being obtrusive. Your children must have the secure feeling that they will always have your support in hand as a backup nail if they cannot cope on their own. “When I need them, they are there.”.

If you can't get along, get help

It is easy to see what one reads in smart books and to make good resolutions in a quiet hour. It is usually much more difficult to translate them into reality.

  • If fear or anger keep blocking your level-headed action,
  • if you can no longer find a way to each other on your own,
  • if one keeps misunderstanding the other, get help from experts.
  • Go to a family counseling center. You can find them in the phone book of your home town or the next larger town as an offer from the city or from a private agency such as Caritas, Diakonisches Werk or Kinderschutzbund. Or on the Internet at the BKE.

To take up such a position is not an admission of your own inability. Often those who are blind to the work or who are restricted in their ability to act are those who are too close to a problem, who are involved in it with too intense of their own feelings. A stranger, on the other hand, especially one with a specially trained eye, can look at the whole thing with a cool heart and with a critical distance. And that is very helpful.

Of course, it is best if the whole family can go out together. Because nobody is uninvolved when people live so closely together. It will be difficult, of course, to convince your son or daughter to go with you. Dragging them against their will under pressure is completely pointless.

Avoid ascribing any guilt in your attempts to persuade you. So not: "I want us to go there because you ..." but: "... because I want to understand you better", "... because maybe we can be helped to get along better." If you cannot get your son, daughter or partner to go with them, you can go alone. Since the behavior of everyone in a family interacts and is dependent on one another, you can expect that a change in your behavior will also result in changes in other family members.

During discussions in a counseling center, you will not be held against what you are doing wrong. You are also not showered with advice that you cannot implement. Rather, it helps you to fathom and sort your own feelings and thoughts, to be clear about what you want to change. You will be supported in doing this in small, practicable steps.

If you go to counseling together, you will be helped to talk to each other in such a way that everyone gets his or her rights, no one is offended or ironed in, that the discussions clarify and do not hurt. Certainly no counselor will judge who is right in disputes, who is wrong, who argues better and who is worse. Nobody will take sides for or against any of you. Therefore, everyone will equally benefit from such discussions.

More articles by the author here in our family handbook


Helga Gürtler is a qualified psychologist. She writes books and magazine articles on educational topics, gives lectures, works with parent groups and in the training of educators.


Helga Gürtler

Stubenrauchstrasse 4th

12203 Berlin

Tel .: 030/833 67 10



Created on June 23, 2003, last changed on September 9, 2013