Remember the very first time you clapped eyes on your mini-me? You kept staring at them, tracing your fingers along their teeny tiny hands and feet as you soaked in every little detail.
Soon you knew what every newborn cry meant, aced at calming your cutie down and relished knowing that all your tyke needed was you by his side to make him feel safe.
Then, puberty reared its ugly head. Sweet little John or Tammy has very suddenly (possibly overnight) been replaced by a moody, constantly grumpy stranger who doesn’t want to have to do anything with you.
Being on the cusp of puberty (below the age of 10) can be hard for a kid. It’s no coincidence that this is also the time when communication starts breaking down between parent and child, your tween starts rebelling and having angry outbursts.
“Very often, parents hear [their] teen saying, ‘There's no point in talking to you, you don't understand me. You don't even know me’,” says Vinti Mittal, a counsellor and director at SACAC Counselling, a counselling centre that works with kids and young adults.
Your tween has plenty of reasons for acting that way ― hormones do play a part, but can’t be blamed for everything. As your child gets older, he or she is trying to discover themselves, and establish their own sense of identity while at the same time face a future of uncertainty, says Vinti. It’s a time for self-questioning, self-discovery and self-development – and it’s a tall order for a little person, which makes it even more of a minefield.
“Very often parents hear [their] teen saying, ‘There's no point in talking to you, you don't understand me. You don't even know me’.”
“They also are looking for the parent’s approval and appreciation of whom they are becoming,” Vinti points out. “The quarrels and arguments with parents, are often in an attempt to make parents see that they are not the child the parents think they know. They want to shake a parent into an awareness of the new and exciting person they hope to become.”
The breakdown of the parent-child relationship
Now that junior’s focus is beyond the family, parents struggle to stay connected with their child as well. Your little one has been your little one for such a long time that it’s normal for mum and dad to refuse to accept that their child is now part of an entirely different world they know nothing about.
At the same time, parents also feel that their growing child needs help balancing their newfound independence and responsibilities. However, junior doesn’t agree. Your child wants to prove to themselves, you and the rest of the world that they can take control of their life. They see you as a meddler and someone who’s standing in their way of independence.
“All this causes additional stress on the relationship and hence the parents, who are under stress, feel the need to come down harder in the hopes of wanting the best for their kids,” adds Vinti.
The harder you come down on your child, the harder they will retaliate. If you feel like your tween has started acting out a lot recently and is having major angry outbursts, don’t be too quick to pin the blame of puberty ― or them. Your parenting techniques, whether well-intentioned or stemming from frustration, could also be the reason.
Find out what you might be doing that’s triggering your tween and adding to the rift between you both...
#1 Being critical
You call it constructive feedback, your tween calls it nit-picking. “Parents criticise their children because of many reasons unaware of the consequences or out of frustration,” Vinti notes. Sometimes, parents do it because that’s how they were raised and it is the only communication style they know.
“However, persistent criticism breeds resentment and defiance, and undermines a child’s initiative, self-confidence and sense of purpose,” adds Vinti. Words are powerful and nobody thrives in a critical environment, especially not a self-conscious, vulnerable tweenager.
So, the next time you’re about to say something harsh to your child, ask yourself a few questions first. Is it helpful? Will it make your tween a better person? Most importantly, follow the golden rule of doing unto others what you would have them do unto you.
#2 Giving unsolicited advice
Parents spend a large amount of time dispensing sage advice to their kids, because they think they know best. While this is often true, sometimes, the advice turns into long lectures and never-ending nagging sessions.
You want to encourage and explain to your child why they shouldn’t be doing something. But make sure you don't cross the line and insist junior do as you say, because then you're not giving your child an opportunity to be responsible and show you they can be responsible.
"Lectures impact the child’s self esteem and confidence as we are focusing on what they are not doing rather than focusing on what they are doing," points out Vinti. "We think we are being helpful, but our actions actually aid their irresponsibility."
How so? Because when you keep lecturing your child to do things the way you want them do, they are functioning according to how you will react instead of encouraging them to be responsible for their own actions.
Stop making this about you, so that your child won’t have to worry that they’re going to let you down or make you angry. The only way they will learn to be more accountable is to take ownership of their own actions. And as much as you don't want to see your child hurt, letting them find their own solutions is the only way they will learn and acquire responsibility.
#3 Comparing your child to others
"It's natural to want to know where your child stands amidst others," Vinti says. "But comparison is counter-productive for anyone, irrespective of the age. It's a kind of negative criticism as it is like telling the child how the others are better than them."
You think by comparing junior to his peers, siblings or cousins it's going to make him step up and adopt some of their good qualities. However, the only thing you’re successfully going to cultivate is jealousy, self-doubt and negativity ― nothing that's going to affect your child's growth or their relationship with you in a positive way.
Always remember, your child will shine when it’s their time and no amount of comparison is going to speed up that process.
“Comparison is counter-productive for anyone, irrespective of the age. It's a kind of negative criticism as it is like telling the child how the others are better than them."
#4 Playing the martyr
Parenting is tough, we get it. But that doesn’t mean you get to whip out the martyr card or use emotional blackmail whenever it suits you. Forcing your child to do things your way, because you were in a drug-free labour with them for 48 long hours or because you gave up a great career to be a stay-at-home mum is the start of an unhealthy, controlling and manipulative relationship.
“Being a martyr comes from the sacrifices that parents often do for their children,” Vinti explains. “It is unhelpful for children to witness this and it often leads to kids feeling responsible for their parent’s unhappiness and frustration.”
#5 Turning the attention on yourself
Your child may be a mini-you in many ways, but they are not you. So, when parents say things like, “When I was age…”, or “I would have never done what you did…” it isn’t helping your child, nor is going to make them feel good about themselves. Worse, they will feel like they can never meet your high standards and will go through life always feeling inadequate because they can never be as good as you.
#6 Escalating the drama
Meet your child’s anger with calm. Junior is young and doesn’t have all the tools necessary to manage his or her feelings. You, on the other hand, have had a head start. So, make good use of your wisdom. If you meet your child’s anger with anger it’s only going to end up in a shouting match where both of you might say things you will regret later. Meet it with calmness and empathy and your child might be more willing to open up and tell you the real reason they’re feeling all that anger. Raising a child who’s feels comfortable enough to talk to their parents about their feelings is a major parenting milestone.
#7 Dismissing your child’s feelings
A child who is given the space and freedom to feel whatever they are feeling – the good, the bad and the ugly – and are given guidance from their parents to identify their feelings and learn from them, are learning one of the biggest life skills ever. They are learning how to deal with the ups and downs of life in a responsible way.
“Dismissing your child’s feelings equates to dismissing them as an individual,” adds Vinti. “This might either make the child aggressive or submissive in life. Being either doesn’t help the child and impacts their well-being.”
#8 Teasing them when they’re emotional
When things get tense, it’s all too easy to want to lighten the mood with some teasing. By saying things like “why are you so sensitive?”, you’re not only belittling what your child is feeling, you also have an impact on his or her self-esteem and confidence.
“No one likes to be ridiculed, irrespective of their ages. It inculcates doubts about themselves,” says Vinit. “They may also start questioning their self-worth, with respect to others around them.”
So, now that you know what not to do around your tween, also remember that as parent, your goal is to raise a healthy, well-balanced young adult, who is able to tell right from wrong. The only way to raise that person, is to be a parent who is always there for their kids, and willing to treat them as young adults deserving of their respect and guidance.
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