“I hate you!” — dealing with tween disrespect

Your baby is past the pre-school years — how do you take him or her through the Tween years (from 5 to 12)? How do you discipline them?


Kids at this age are getting more independent and are being exposed to ever more influences. They’re learning in bigger classes, from wider groups of people; have social problems that you might never have heard of; and they’re seeing and exploring things that could give you an aneurysm, thanks, Internet and social media (even if you haven’t given them a smartphone or a tablet, you can bet a friend at school has one).

            Common problems parents report from their kids include arguing, yelling, defiance, lying and that ever-popular one: Peer pressure. So as a parent, you need to lay stronger ground rules to deal with these possibilities — without crushing your child into a lifeless zombie. How?

1. Communication — be ultra-clear

As with much younger children, tweens need short and clear directions. “Your child is navigating the world of peer influence, demands at home and at school. Give clear instructions that your tween will be able to follow through on,” says Dr Hana Ra Adams, trained family therapist and counsellor who is currently working with the German European School Singapore.

            She says that as a rule of thumb, “The smaller the child, the smaller the sentence. So for a young child you wouldn't say ‘Don't hit mummy because it hurts and you don't want to hurt people.’ You would say, ‘Don't hit mummy. It hurts.’”

            So when you communicate with a child aged 8 and older, she says, you can progress to two- to three-step commands such as “Take your clothes to the laundry basket. Take a shower. Then brush your teeth.” That child will be able to retain the information — and your rules can get more complex.

           “But a 5-year-old, you would give them one step, let them finish and then follow with another direction.” 

2. Involve your child in laying down the rules

“As your child becomes older, he or she will want to be more independent and push the boundaries. Sit down with your tween and come up with rules together. Adjust them according to age,” says Dr Adams. For instance, she reminds parents that as schoolwork increases, time spent on chores may need to be adjusted.

            A good way to negotiate this is to sit down with your child before the school year starts, and discuss things. Perhaps you allowed 10 minutes a day on the computer when they were younger, but now she will need to do research on her social studies questions or he may need to look up a topic for science?

            Your child can help provide lists of needs, and perhaps things they would be willing to do to get more computer time, for instance — sweeping his bedroom or a similar chore. Your child can also help you to set consequences such as refusal to do homework leading to the loss of bicycle privileges, perhaps.

            Write these out and post them where the child can see them easily — children are much more likely to keep to limits that they helped to set. “By working together, it helps you to keep communication lines open and also helps you to be able to point out to your child that the consequences have been set and agreed upon mutually,” says Dr Adams. 
            Natural consequences can be a great help, too. Say your daughter has a dance class early on Saturday but she wants to stay up late on Friday — consider letting her try it. If she’s so tired that she cannot keep up with class on Saturday, she may remember it when she next wants to argue.