What is really happening when a preadolescent, or “tween”, talks back to you? What is the big picture, and how can you approach the situation in an optimal way for yourself and for your child, and for your relationship?
When “tweens” talk back, or overreact and act out in general, they are reflecting the strong desire to separate from you, exert control, express their selves and grow up. In other words, something natural and appropriate is occurring- now, we just need to use the situation as a starting point to guide the child in the right direction. A social worker at North Shore Pediatric Therapy explains, “As children go through developmental stages, they strive for increased competence, mastery of skills, and independence. It is a natural part of growing up to question authority.” So…how can such situations lead our children to increased development rather than increasing frustration and family tension?
I asked a few parents and other professionals to reflect on back-talk that happens between tweens and their parents. The following quotes from their responses are helpful to our comprehension of the topic at hand:
“You listen and then ask a lot of questions so that they come to the conclusion and realization themselves about what they said, and the appropriateness of it, and give you the right way of saying it.”
This parent and NSPT occupational therapist also reminds us to always role model correct speaking (word use, tone, appropriate behavior, etc.) with our children.
“…if it were personally directed towards me or said to make me feel bad, I would point that out, “You hurt my feelings when you said that”…or “That was a harsh way to say that, can you think of a more fair, and sensitive way? Would you like it if I spoke to you that way? ”
In addition, this mother shares the importance of respecting the child’s point of view and at the same time respecting one’s self.
“I found that when preadolescent children “talked back,” I usually was in the middle of a power struggle that had originated with them two or three steps back down the road…Therefore, what usually worked, when I was actually aware enough to do it, was to simply go back to that point where the power struggle began, and talk to the young person from there.”
This teacher’s approach involves reflecting on the root cause of the power struggle. It is an interesting approach but does take a great deal of patience and analysis.
“When my tweens talked back to me I did everything wrong…….I did what my parents did and said, “Don’t talk to me like that!” I looked at them with disbelief and walked away. Or I actually continued the conversation as if they deserved for me to continue to talk with them!!”
In this case, this author and mother of tweens took an approach that brought positive attention to her tween’s back-talk without offering guidance for how to share one’s thoughts and feelings in a more mature and appropriate manner.
Kenneth Ginsburgs book, But I’m Almost 13, is a helpful text that elucidates a number of typical teen situations and offers great solutions. For example, he encourages parents to discipline by guiding rather than punishing, see beyond negative teen stereotypes, strengthen the parent-child connection through positive attention, and more. He teaches techniques such as choreographed discussions, modeling, and decision trees.
Take a deep breath; rather than being reactive, be compassionate, proactive, clear and honest. Take their words into consideration while remaining steadfast and setting limits. Remain calm, as the energy or tone that you bring to the conversation can help bring greater peace rather than more turmoil to your family.
Care to share a difficult conversation that you recently had with your tween? What was your solution? Would you do the same thing next time or do you have a better way of dealing with it now?