Teenagers have a tendency to exaggerate. Whether this tendency comes out in harsh words or sulky behavior, it is something most teenagers struggle with.

For instance, has your teenager ever said something like “I hate you!” or “I’m going to kill myself!”? These phrases are on the extreme end of the spectrum, and hopefully your teenager has not uttered these words. But have you heard other things like “You don’t understand.” or “I just don’t feel like hanging out with anyone.”?

Kris Vallotton shares how a savvy parent might respond to a teenager who is at his or her whit’s end. The key is to “listen past [their] words” to what they’re actually trying to communicate.

“Our homes should be a place where we can actually have safe communication,” Vallotton says in the video below. So, for instance, if your beloved teenager tells you “I hate you,” it will help to try to understand where that statement is coming from. When kids use words like hate, never, or always, Vallotton explains that means “This is how big it feels inside of me…I feel like my world’s coming apart.”

It’s hard for teenagers to see the bigger picture of life during this particular stage of their development. Sometimes it’s also hard for them to open up. Maybe you wish your teen would say some super exaggerated thing—at least they would be talking to you! If this is your situation, don’t quit trying. More often than not, your teen wants you to pursue. For tips on getting your teen to open up, check out this article by Jonathan McKee.

The next time your teenager tells you something really extreme, remember Vallotton’s advice to listen past what he or she is actually saying, to what he or she is trying to communicate.

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