Written by P. Humbargar
Edited by A. Noelle
The “tween” years, roughly the ages of 10-12 years, refers to the stage in a child’s development when they are “in-between” being a child and a teenager. This is a time of rapid physical and psychological change, when children begin to test their wings and establish their own identities. No longer are parents the center of their worlds, but the larger social world, especially that of their peers, becomes increasingly important. As tweens begin to test their limits, conflicts with parents are inevitable; how parents handle these conflicts can often prevent truly “bad behavior” from developing. According to an article written by Linda Rogers, for Parenting.com, “Preventing tween behavior problems,” the key is “building a close relationship.” Citing two distinguished professors and authors (Christy M. Buchanan, PhD, and Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD), she goes on to provide seven important tips for parents on how they can minimize conflict and prevent behavior problems during the tween years.
Raise your expectations
Dr. Ginsburg, a professor of pediatrics, and author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens, says that teens live up or down to our expectations. “If you expect negative behavior, kids will behave accordingly. But if you expect compassion and thoughtfulness, that’s what you’ll get.” A study by Buchanan backs this up. Her survey of 250 sixth- and seventh-graders and their moms found that moms who expected kids to take risks and test limits “tended to get what they bargained for.” Parents who believe it’s inevitable that their children will get into trouble, will likely not try to monitor or discipline them, thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy; and having low expectations can directly, or indirectly, send kids that message.
Don’t blame it all on hormones
Although all teens and older tweens are hormonal, Buchanan says that attributing all bad behavior to hormones may be a cop-out—the effects of hormones are actually small for most kids, and the behavior is often the result of other causes. The behavior may likely be a reaction to something else going on in the child’s life, such as academic stress, or problems with friends. The parent thus needs to take the time to ask the child if something is going on; whether or not the child wants to talk about it, at least you have shown that you care enough to listen.
Find the right balance
Finding the right balance between freedom and rules is not an easy task. Teens who engage in bad behavior usually have parents who are either too permissive or too strict. Being too permissive provides kids with opportunities to get into trouble; being too strict causes them to rebel. A recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that kids whose parents were permissive were three times as likely to drink heavily, and those whose parents were too strict had twice the risk. Other studies have found the same results for sexual activity. And as one might surmise, those teens with the lowest risk had a warm relationship with their parents, while they were at the same time, held accountable for their actions. Finding that balance isn’t easy—rule setting isn’t black and white. According to Buchanan, “You have to give your child the freedom she deserves based on past behavior.” If the trust is broken—stricter rules must be set.
In today’s hectic world, it can be difficult for family members to stay connected. Dr. Ginsburg suggests scheduling get-togethers; even sitting down for a family dinner a couple nights a week is good. And find other ways to check-in—take a walk, a drive in the car to grab a drink, or go outside and shoot hoops—kids are often more willing to talk when they’re involved in some activity. And if your tween just doesn’t want to talk, it is still important to let her know that you are always available to listen without lecturing.
Help them handle stress
Kids are under a lot of pressure today, and according to Dr. Ginsburg, sex, drugs, drinking, and violence are often reactions to stress. It is therefore important for children to learn healthy coping skills. Modeling good behavior is one way to help them. “If you drink and smoke when you’re stressed, your child will think that’s acceptable and copy your behavior as he gets older.” A study from the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, also found that kids who have sex too early tend to come from homes where the parents drink and smoke. (Practice what you preach has always been good advice!)
Keep them busy (Just not too busy)
Involvement in after-school activities is also a good way to handle stress. Studies show that kids who are involved in extra-curricular activities are less likely to use drugs; and playing sports makes them less likely to smoke or drink or become pregnant. Belonging to a team (or any activity) helps boost self-confidence, and the team aspect allows kids to act as good role models for one another while under the supervision of a caring adult. It’s just common sense that kids with too much free time on their hands are the ones who are most likely to get into trouble!
Keep tabs on their friends
Finally, parents need to keep tabs on their children’s friends in a way that doesn’t cause resentment. This can certainly be tricky, especially when the parent doesn’t approve of a particular friend. But putting rules on such relationships (without forbidding them altogether) may be necessary. Also, following your child on Facebook, (without embarrassing her, of course) is another way to gain insight into your child’s circle of friends.
Okay—great advice for parents—but what if you’ve done everything “right” and your tween still ends up engaging in some type of bad behavior?
Buchanan offers the following suggestions (in her own words):
Lay down the law.
Tell your tween why you disapprove, what the dangers are (“Smoking harms your lungs, so you’ll get winded when you play soccer”), and why you don’t want this to happen again.
Place the penalty.
Come up with a reasonable consequence, such as taking away an enjoyable privilege (she can’t go shopping with her buddies next weekend), but not so severe that you can’t follow through.
Monitor her behavior.
Stay rigorous about keeping track of her whereabouts and asking questions. Tell her: ‘As long as you have my trust, I’ll give you more privileges. If you break it, I’ll clamp down.’
If your child fesses up about a bad thing she did, hold off on the consequence for now and help her figure out ways to avoid the situation in the future.
As the author states at the beginning of her article, “building a close relationship” is the key to preventing tween behavior problems. This doesn’t mean your child won’t ever make mistakes, but it does make it more likely that she will talk to you about the problems she faces during these trying years.
If you would like to read the article in its entirety on CNN, click here.
Continue reading below for an accompaniment piece by Chelsea blogger, Thery McKinney.
You love them, but sometimes…
Written by Thery McKinney
Edited by A. Noelle
We all have those moments when someone says something to you and SNAP! Immediately, there’s that nasty, “You ‘pushed my button,’” retort. What makes it worse is that it’s your own child who drives you to that point. It seems that children always choose to get on your nerves when you’re exhausted, frustrated, out of patience and in a hurry. How can you handle these verbal battles maturely?
On www.parenting.com, Melody Warrick’s article about dealing with the six most common verbal attacks by young children is enlightening. She says that “developing the knack to verbally push your buttons is just part of your child’s linguistic and behavioral development.” Okay, but then what can you do to get through this phase?
It’s amazing how quickly a young child learns what phrases and verbal assaults will work on your nerves and how often they try to use them. The phrases – “I hate you!” or “I want it NOW!” – are capable of provoking responses like, “Oh, yeah?!” or “You’re driving me crazy!” Losing your temper isn’t productive. You can try ignoring them, but that will not stop the behavior – though it might just give you some time to think of an appropriate response. “Because I say so!” is not the best answer.
Giving in to demands, ignoring or breaking your own rules only reinforces their behavior. It convinces children that if they wait long enough, they will get their way. Shoving off the responsibility to your spouse undermines both parents’ authority. Children quickly learn the subtle art of manipulation – who is the softy, or who really means what they say?
Children under the age of nine are actually literal thinkers; this means that using reverse psychology isn’t going to be the solution. Finding an appropriate solution includes understanding the reasons for the outbursts. The concept of sharing may be a difficult one to cultivate in a crying and screaming child. Parents often hear the shout, “Mine! It’s mine!” This can happen between siblings or during social interactions at school and on playgrounds. Claiming ownership seems to be an early social behavior. Even if the object is not wanted by the child, it still isn’t to be given to someone else. Lying, scaring, bribing, and threatening are tempting tactics that may temporarily work; but forcing the matter won’t solve the issue. What are you going to do the next time this happens? You may choose to be strict with a firm, “NO!” But how many times can you refuse? Try acknowledging your child’s ownership but offering a substitute, “Why don’t you play with this toy instead? This one is newer/bigger/prettier? Remember how much fun you had with this one?” This allows the child to give it up willingly. Letting your child understand that he has made the decision to share his bounty will make the next time easier.
It isn’t easy to remind yourself that acting out is one way that a child manifests their emotions. Remember this isn’t a two-way contest of wills. Regard these incidences as challenges to teach your child to be courteous and develop empathy, “Would you like it if this happened to you?” Get them started on developing a conscience. Individuality and assertiveness don’t include rudeness or bad behavior.
Words spoken thoughtlessly can hurt both the child and the parent, resulting in additional emotional problems. “Leave me alone!” “I’m busy!” “Stop bothering me!” These words won’t solve the annoying repetitive demands for your attention, and they can send the message that you have more important things to do. Yelling out phrases – “What is the matter with you?!” or “How can you can be so stupid/lazy/sloppy?!” or “Don’t be a baby!” – can ruin a lifetime’s worth of self-esteem. Young children will believe what they hear as truth.
You don’t want to deny or demean a child’s feelings. Teach your child that there are alternate ways to react to situations; they have the choice to behave or misbehave. Verbally reward positive behavior. Remind young children of similar previous situations. Positive reinforcement includes repetition. Children never seem to tire of engaging in pleasant activities over and over again. How many times have you read their favorite book to them?
Discipline and proper behavior are required but so is the give-and-take. Your child needs to understand that you are the parent. You are not the enemy; you are not the enforcer; and you are not the tyrant. Sooner or later, the children will learn that as a parent, you are guiding their way to being mature and responsible people. Until then, you can always keep telling yourself that “this, too, shall pass.”
To read the original article in its entirety on parenting.com, click here.
To visit parenting.com, click here.
“8 Discipline Mistakes Parents Make” by Amanda May
“Positive Reinforcement: 9 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Child” by Paula Spencer