When Teens Learn Behavior From an NPD Parent - A Follower’s Question to The BIFF Response® Coach

Paraphrased from the original question to the BIFF Response® coach, a reader asks about using the BIFF Response® method with a teenager.

Trissan, thank you for the great podcast.* My ex who is narcissistic and has half custody has caused trauma with my teenage children. One of them is reacting with verbal vomit and blame anytime he is crossed and I know he learned that from his other parent. How do I apply a BIFF Response® to a young teen, but with the intention of healing and of helping him feel heard, while setting boundaries, and helping disengage his panic? I know he is hurting and dealing with a lot of unfair and chaotic behavior at the other parent’s home half the time (and I have not won the custody battle thus far).

That’s a tough situation, to be sure. Teens have enough trouble just being teens.  It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between run-of-the-mill teen attitude and a budding narcissist, so in some respects I suspect yours will naturally gain more control as he ages. You have that to look forward to and in the meantime, it’s important to model the behavior you want to see in him now, while he’s still in the process of learning and forming his own personality patterns. This is particularly important, in my view, when one of the parents exhibits traits of a personality disorder – it’s your opportunity to exemplify more desirable behavior and help offset what may be learned from the difficult parent and to set limits as to what you will allow. Using the BIFF Response® technique can help you with that.

Using a BIFF Response® With Your Teen

For example, teen come home from the other parent’s home and announces that he’s going to stay up until 11:30 from now on because that’s what the other parent lets him do and s/he already said it’s OK.  You note the defiant look and tone and are not inclined to move the bedtime from its usual time. You’re PO’d that the other parent did this without talking to you (again) but, of course, you remain calm and controlled, and open the door to a later discussion so your teen can be heard now and not feel like battle is about to ensue.

Using a BIFF Response® in this context may go something like this:

“Thanks for letting me know about that, Johnny. The rules here are a little different, so on the nights you spend here, we’ll keep the usual bedtime on school nights. Why don’t you try it a couple of nights with mom/dad and see if you feel awake enough to deal with school and homework or not. We’ll talk about it more after you have had a chance to try it out and think about it.”

This meets the 4 steps of a BIFF Response®:  Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.  Or, as you termed it, it’s disengaging from his challenge, allowing him to be heard, setting limits and providing a learning/healing opportunity. Plus, it brought a potentially harsh debate to a quick close.

Is That All There Is to It?

Nope.  A BIFF Response® is a great thing use but it’s not a cure for narcissism or teenage angst. Putting this into practice effectively requires not only learning the four steps, but having a good working knowledge of the reasons why it works. That information is provided in the BIFF Response® Book and the How to Write a BIFF Response® Video in detail.

Using the BIFF Response® method might also require some changes in thinking on your part. In fact, it usually does because what we ask you to do and learn can be the opposite of what you feel like doing.  I don’t have all the facts of your situation, but these are common samples of things to consider in the above scenario:

  • You made a quick decision that missing a few hours of sleep won’t actually kill him, despite the fact you didn't care for that idea much.

  • You realize he probably won’t keep it up for long on his own, so you chose not to fight this battle and found another way to address it without confrontation.

  • You took his defiant statement and challenge to your authority and made it a non-issue without challenging him back or simply laying down the law (teens will challenge you no matter what, anyway).

  • You declined to engage in a battle of wills or discuss your disapproval of the other parent’s decision (you can always discuss it with him/her later if sleeplessness becomes an actual problem instead of the threat of a problem. There’s a difference.)

  • You did not openly question the other parent’s decision or give any indication you were mad at the parent or the teen. As such, you did not set up (nor buy into a setup) that pit mom against dad in front of the teen. When things are brought to you, either as the teen's own idea or as the messenger for the other parent, you should keep the discussion between parents. The easy limit to set here is “I can see this is important to you. Your dad/mom and I will talk about it and make a decision.”

  • Probably the hardest thing is letting go of the other parent saying OK when you know it’s going to mean some lost productivity at school and lead to an even crankier teen. The reality is that you won’t be able to get the other parent to do everything the way you think it should be done (did you ever?) so save your energy for dealing with bigger issues, and then, do that out of earshot of your kids.

  • Most of all, in my opinion, is that you have done two good things for your teen here in modeling an alternative to what he may have been anticipating:

(1) He’ll pick up on the fact that you reacted calmly when he had something difficult to discuss (and so will other kids if they heard it). Don’t expect him to admit it, but somewhere in there the seed was planted that it’s safe to talk to you and you can reinforce that by keeping up the same kind of responses to him.

(2) You’ve demonstrated a calm and collected reply that he could learn use with the other parent or anyone else. It's a life skill - He’s bound to get into a tiff with some kid at school so, some other day, you can talk more about the 4 BIFF steps to help him get it down (making it age appropriate, as needed).  I would not use other parent as an example, but if you are consistent in your use of BIFF, he’ll most likely start it with the other parent himself at some point.

 There is more to learn and undoubtedly there is more going on with your family than missed sleep, so get the BIFF® book or video and learn all you can about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and co-parenting.  I'm not a therapist (the above comes from years of experience) so in addition to self-education we always recommend counseling with a person well qualified to help you deal with NPD - and teen - issues. For you and your kids, it's invaluable, in fact. 

Good luck and good practice!


*Grab a cup of coffee and watch the original podcast Better Communication with the BIFF Response®. Special thanks to Kristen Darcy Divorce Coaching for putting together the fabulous Divorcing Intact Virtual Summit April 4-8, 2016  and for rounding up a dedicated group of experts to participate.  Kristen Darcy is an award-winning author,  motivational speaker, life coach & expert on the emotional aspects of infertility & divorce. Visit her website at www.kristendarcy.com


 Trissan Dicomes is the BIFF Response Coordinator for High Conflict Institute. She runs the www.BIFFResponse.com website and social media for High Conflict Institute, and she provides BIFF Response coaching and a regular BIFF Response blog. She has over 20 years’ experience as a Paralegal in civil litigation, probate and family law mediation.  She worked for 8 years at the National Conflict Resolution Center and acquired hands-on experience helping clients learn to write and speak with the BIFF Response method and handle high-conflict disputes in mediation. Contact us: info@biffresponse.com – (916) 258-2433.

© 2016 – High Conflict Institute


Don’t Alienate the Kids

Coaching for BIFF Responses DVD

How to Write BIFF Response DVD

It’s All Your Fault! Managing Narcissists and Other High-Conflict People