Teenage Meltdowns

Remember when your child was a mere tot and the word “no” could reduce your little sunshine into a wailing demon? While that memory makes me cringe, I’d go back in time and experience it again.

Yep. You read that right.

Any crazed parent of  a toddler knows tantrums come with the territory. I did. But then, the years  went by and I starting to feel superior, like I had parenting thing under control. Like I was a combination of Carol Brady and Angelina Jolie.

And then, bam! Reality check. I  have a teenager. And NOTHING could prepare me for a teenage meltdown.

My first encounter came out of nowhere and I quickly discovered that whatever a Mom does or says likely will only add to the meltdown. (Of course, I know that now, after I suffered the brutal result of trying to be rational.)

This is what you are likely to hear during a teen meltdown:

“You’re ruining my life.”

“Because of you I’m going to get left out.”

“Everyone will be there and I won’t and it’s all your fault.”

The meltdown will include: Crying. Screaming. Anger toward you. Possible door slamming.

Sound familiar?

Here’s what the experts at Families With Teens say NOT to do:

1.  React.   When you become angry, you add to the energy of your teen’s meltdown.

2.  Back down.  It may be tempting to make the meltdown go away by giving in a bit, but it will not help you or your child in the long run.  In fact, it will make the next meltdown even bigger because he has learned that sometimes you back down.

3.  Problem-solve.   Your teen is reacting out of an emotional side of him, and is not ready to engage his intellect (which is needed for problem-solving).

4.  Threaten. Most parents do this out of anger and it only exasperates the teen and adds energy to the meltdown.

5.  Insult.  Avoid the temptation to say, “You’re acting like a child.  Grow up and act your age.”

6.  Watch.  For some teens, just having their parent in the room watching them will increase the meltdown. Your non-verbal reactions may be enough to fuel the fire.

7. Argue.  It may be easy to show your teen the error in his logic, but remember, he is not thinking logically, he is thinking emotionally.

Here’s what they suggest you do:

1.  Remain calm. Easier said than done.  This takes practice.

2.  Acknowledge the anger.  Sometimes it is calming for a teen just to be understood.

3.  Find something else to do.  Do anything that will help you to not engage in your teen’s meltdown.

4. Make every effort to starve the fire.  It’s not the time to enforce punishment.  It’s not the time to discuss the consequences.  Only do these things when your teen is showing you they can be calm.

My first encounter with a teen meltdown has left me numb. But next time, I plan to take the walk-away and wait-for-calmness-to-return approach.

Parents, or should I say survivors, how do you handle teen meltdowns?


(Wondering how Angelina would handle a teen meltdown???)

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  1. M.J. May 5, 2012 at 2:58 am

    It is normal to teens to feel angry when they don’t get what they want or you disagree of the things they thought about. If this happens, the best way to deal with it is through a logical argumentation. It might be not be easy but it is better than ending up shouting at each other.

  2. niki ozbolt March 28, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    My daughter is 13 and im constantly hearing during meltdowns that im to over protective, that she is in control of her body, that i dont understand or that i dont care. My daughter suffers with anxiety, depression and obsessive behaviors/thoughts. So when she does have a meltdown, it can go on for over an hour. And sometimes i just dont know what to say. Which is what i think leads her to believe that im not listening or that i dont care. And at some point i have to tell her “thats enough, its time to stop” which leaves her feeling that i dont understand or somehow invalidates her feelings. Any advice anyone can give me on this would be INCREDIBLY helpful.

    1. Janine March 24, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      My daughter is 18 and suffers with the exact same diagnoses as yours. My daughter’s mantra is also “You don’t understand/you don’t get it/you don’t know how it feels,” etc. This is true – I mean, I really cannot be inside her emotions and know precisely how she feels. But I do know how she (and everyone for that matter) must act. We all get extremely upset sometimes, but still have to behave like responsible people, regardless of our strong negative emotions. Once I’ve let her get the initial angry/upset outburst out, I let her know that I can see that she is feeling this way, and I give a brief and calm response. Then I tell her that this is all I have to say about it for now, because it’s impossible to talk further when one of us is having such strong feelings. This seems cruel, but it’s useless for me to try to talk with her when I cannot get a word in. My presence seems to overstimulate her anyway, and once we’re physically apart for a few minutes, she usually quiets down. I’m under no illusion that she’s suddenly happy, but at least there’s some calm. Later we can discuss it rationally. Hope this helps.

      1. Mari Kudla August 15, 2018 at 1:50 am

        I found this site because my 16 yr old just had another meltdown and yes deals with anxiety and depression. She lives,with her dad because things were getting so bad between us and she couldn’t even hold a conversation with me because she can’t handle her emotions (in even the slightest it seems) . There is extreme anger towards me and we barely talk. I know what her “reason” would be if i made her say it but it does not add up to this kind of behavior. I firmly believe that what looks like a panic attack is an act but i don’t have any idea why!

        1. Isa October 14, 2018 at 6:03 am

          Hey, I fall under what your daughter may be feeling. Im fourteen and have anxiety, panic dissorder, depression, ADHD, some anger issues and the like. I get meltdowns a lot. Like, on the floor not responding slamming my head on a dresser type of meltdown. It looks like a panic attack. And no, it isnt an act, even when I have meltdowns that are more responsive and have me storming around screaming, it is NEVER an act. I dont think anyone would voluntarily feel those emotions, the strain on your body is so intense and painful. I understand what you are going through is a lot, and I know its going to be different then what me and my mom go through. But during those intense meltdowns its never an act. Its like anxiety fueled panic attacks, your body fills with unwanted adrenaline and other chemicals making your body react the way it does. And im not saying that your daughter not being able to talk to you is completely out of her control, but I just want you to hear what its like on the other side.

  3. Marie April 29, 2019 at 5:19 am

    My daughter is 13 and suffers from anxiety and depression and has extreme mood swings. My husband who is her step father is really struggling with how out of control she gets. They escalate so quickly and i am afraid it is ruining our family. Today she stormed out and left the house after a minor disagreement. When my husband had to go find her, she got in his face, he tried to spank her like a child really, they literally got into a scuffle, she grabbed a knife and went into the bathroom and slammed the door, I just about beat the door down scared because she had a knife, he forcefully had to grab the knife out of her hands and we all scuffled in the bathroom while she was literally screaming. She escalates so quickly. This is all absolute craziness! I feel like they are out of control, and I’m losing my grip.


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