One of the most difficult typical issues (not heart defects, FASD or hearing loss) we have dealt with in our parenting has been disrespect in the early teen and tween years. Our sweet, polite (even compliant) children suddenly become completely unpredictable. Much like Good Cop in the LEGO Movie, our children go from sweet and thoughtful to yelling, stomping and crying with seemingly little or no provocation.
And then they switch back to a sweet child who needs reassurance.
Dealing with this behavior is hard. (Probably mostly because I was such a smart alec as a teen and know full-well I deserve this.)
This disrespectful behavior seems to creep into our family around age ten. By eleven we are dealing with full-blown snark and sarcasm. (Seriously, where do the kids get this stuff?) I’d love to blame it on public school, but my homeschoolers have gone through it just as bad.
What we have tried:
What has worked:
No, that’s not a typo. The reality is nothing has been particularly helpful (more on that in a moment).
I want to to make one distinction here, I am talking about tweens and young teens, not preschoolers or kids under ten or so. With younger children, we attempt to nip any rude or disrespectful behavior in the bud. This is part of teaching children what is appropriate and what is acceptable. What I am referring to is the arguing and disrespect that comes as children grow and mature. This sudden disrespectful behavior in our home has been accompanied by moods swings, tears, and limit-testing. Basically, it is arriving with the onset of puberty.
Since we have raised five children from birth to adulthood so far, this isn’t our first rodeo and I am beginning to see a pattern. In our experience, the storm eventually passes. We have always been on the stricter side of parenting, firm believers in routine, bedtimes, and rewards and punishments. What we have observed is, every single one of our children goes through this phase, and so far every single one of them has outgrown it. By the time our adult children were fourteen or fifteen, these outbursts were gone. We didn’t always agree on things, but the eye-rolling, foot-stomping and door-slamming disappeared and we had our respectful kids back.
The most helpful thing we’ve found so far is to allow them to grow up, let their hormones settle down and focus on our relationship in the meantime.
My new method? Love my children.
That’s right I am:
Focusing more on loving my children and less on controlling their behavior.
Building them up and having more positive interactions during the good times.
I am giving more hugs, saying I love you more.
I am making sure I send the message that my love is not dependent on their behavior.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not ignoring the behavior. If a child is rude to me, I call them on it (gently). If they are obnoxious, I may very well give them a small job to do or remove a privilege. What has happened is, I have changed my attitude. I am aware that their hormones are raging out of control (think of how you feel with PMS) and their bodies are changing fast in ways that are often confusing. They are simply irrational, inconsistent creatures at this age. Most of the time I remind myself of an important parenting truth: we don’t negotiate with terrorists.*
In the meantime, I give extra hugs. Extra love. I let the child know I love them. We keep our rules and boundaries the same.
This time around I know we have laid a solid foundation and taught them about appropriate actions and behavior. This time around I am confident my children will return to rational behavior as soon as their bodies and minds stop growing at such a rapid pace. In the meantime, I am drinking gallons of coffee and taking many, many deep, calming breaths.
* Turns out my children were offended by this. Now we say, “We don’t negotiate with unicorns”.
In fact, I designed and wear a shirt that says just that. I wore it to a disciplinary meeting with my children’s school principal. He found it both amusing and accurate. In fact, according to my child, he even quoted me on it later. You can buy your own “We don’t negotiate with unicorns” shirt (or coffee mug, notebook, etc) in my Redbubble shop.