The Connection Dance with Teens

She’s obsessed (like in the high-anxiety, clinically-diagnosable way) with running—getting faster and using it to not become morbidly obese. Actually she’s obsessed with working out. This fall has been a disaster where fitness is concerned between severe growing pains and a dislocated elbow. What normally was an outlet for releasing anxiety has now become the center of the emotional whirlwind.

Photo courtesy of hin255 /

Photo courtesy of hin255 /

She decided to start off the morning with a run according to a new running schedule we implemented to help curb the anxiety.

Having a visual of what comes in the future is often really helpful with high-anxiety kids.

The run did not meet her “expectations.” She storms into the house and flops onto her bed in a heap of tears and anger claiming she’s never running again and the schedule is “stupid.”

Life usually never meets the expectations of a high-anxiety person.

I sit near her (touching will escalate the matter) and give my condolences. Then I try to employ my engineering logic.

“This is only the second day of the schedule. Remember how I told you that it would take at least a month for you to see improvement? It’s cold outside. Did you warm up before you tried to run in the cold?”


Clearly she’s hearing but not listening to me. Not surprising really. I make a conscience decision to not enter into the drama and just calmly inform her what the next thing on the day’s schedule (that she planned in advance with me) is…swimming which she loves. I also tell her that she’ll need to either eat something before we leave or pack something to take with us. We got caught out running errands with her crabby, grouchy, hungry self the day before, and I was not about to let that happen again.

I’m cleaning up breakfast when she enters the kitchen obviously looking for a fight.

“You look sad about your run. Do you need a hug?”

The possessed angry eyes shoot daggers at me. “Don’t touch me!”

When I’m testing the waters to see if she’s ready to reconnect, I expect rudeness and attitude. That way it doesn’t catch me off guard, and I can measure my response instead of over-reacting. While disrespect is never acceptable, now is not the time to address it.

When it’s time to leave for swimming, she has neither eaten nor packed a snack. I’m packed and ready to go and tell her absolute latest time we can leave and still accomplish the other things we need to get done that day. I assure her she does not even have to eat the snack she packs if she never feels hungry, but she has to take one with us. I even give her a script to repeat that respectfully asks me to pack her snack for her. Nothing. As expected, she misses the swimming window.

On to the next thing. Ab work. I told you…obsessed with working out.

“Well we missed out on swimming but ab work is next on the schedule.”

“You didn’t want to help me when I was sad this morning. You only help your biological kids. You don’t want to do ab work with me. Just leave! And I’m NOT going with you to the Halloween Party tonight.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way. I do want to help. I’m setting my timer for our 15 minute workout. I’ll be here until it beeps if you want to join me.”

I did an ab workout by myself. I left and ran errands.

For some teens, they regulate better when provided with space. Our fighter escalates by picking fights. She can’t escalate if there’s no one to fight with, and she’s forced to regulate. She doesn’t typically have stay home alone privileges, but we’ve decided not to die on that hill in the name of my sanity to be able to separate from her if necessary. I usually employ locking myself in my bedroom for space but this day required errands.

When I returned, she was dressed for the Halloween party and mostly back online. While driving to the party, she apologizes for the way she acted, but expresses she’s still mad that I didn’t help her when she was sad. I gently reminded all the ways I tried to help her. Silence.

As always, I asked her what she would have liked me to do differently. Still silence.

Crisis averted.

DISCLAIMER: There are many days when I can’t keep my cool and play my cards so well, and I get manipulated into playing her game instead. However, it’s when we get to the end of the day, and she can’t find any missteps of mine that I think her paradigm slowly starts to change and her FELT safety inches a bit in the positive direction.

Photo courtesy of photostock /

Photo courtesy of photostock /

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