Q & A: My Sweet Daughter Now a Terrible Tween. Help!
By: Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg
My daughter used to be the sweetest, loving child. She made parenting a joy. But on the day after she turned 9, she suddenly started acting like a total brat, and it’s lasted for months. She is sarcastic and rude, and honestly I sometimes hide from her because I just want to avoid her! Just tonight, I asked her what she wanted for dinner and she said “what makes you think I want to eat the food in this house?,” which left me speechless. How do I get my sweet girl back?
It’s alarming when a child transforms – seemingly overnight – into what feels like someone else’s kid. The good news is that this phase will pass. Tweens (kids in the pre-teen years of 7-12) are going through many physical and psychological changes at once, and it’s normal for them to experiment with independence from Mom and Dad, and in the process, test the bounds of your love. Many tweens want to make their own decisions about clothes, food, friends and more, and because of this, your relationship has to evolve.
Your daughter probably feels ambivalent; she wants to be the sweet baby she once was –dependent on you –but she also wants to stretch her wings, make new choices, and be recognized as an older kid. She needs help making a smooth transition into this new identity. While your daughter navigates her own mood swings, she needs you to be steady. If you get peeved by her behavior and lose your cool, use it as an opportunity to connect with her through an apology. Modeling good behavior (such as apologizing after an outburst) will remind her what she should be doing after she acts out with you. Despite the fact that she’s driving you crazy, your consistency will demonstrate your unconditional love and prove that you value your relationship with her. If you can keep your cool after your daughter rolls her eyes and slams the dinner plates into the sink after you ask her to clear the table, here are some things to try:
● Observe and narrate her behavior to her so that she knows what she’s doing and how it makes you feel – take a breath and then calmly state what you observed and what need you think she’s expressing: “Huh. So, I asked you if you could clear the table and I see you rolling your eyes. It looks like you’re feeling annoyed. Is that how you’re feeling?” The key is to be as calm and non-judgmental as possible, so that she’s not defensive. A simple and genuine invitation to have a dialogue can be surprisingly effective. However, if she doesn’t bite at your offer, give her space and try again later. Her behavior may be a disguised test of whether you’ll demand that she sit down and talk with you immediately or whether you can wait until she’s ready.
● Let it slide. When your daughter does something that you find annoying, ask yourseIf: “If my girlfriend did it, would it bother me?” Because of her age, your daughter is going through significant change –developmentally, at school, and with her peers. She needs you to be her firm anchor so that you are her primary moral influence. This can’t happen if she only hears about what she’s doing wrong. See what you can let go of and pick your battles carefully.
● If you sense that your daughter is hungry for independence, consider giving her new responsibility to acknowledge her maturity and desire to prove herself. Help her carve out areas where she can make her own decisions, and don’t be afraid to let her make some (small) mistakes. Perhaps she’s ready to take responsibility for the family pet (or she’s ready to get a pet), or maybe she could take the lead in preparing dinner for the family one night a week. (Even if that means PB&J for all, it may be worth it for the sake of familial happiness.)
● When your daughter is relaxed and you have the time to talk, connect with her about how she’s feeling. Open the door to conversation by saying something that makes you vulnerable, such as, “I haven’t felt as connected lately and I feel sad about this. But I know that you’re growing up and becoming more independent and I’m so happy for you. I’m wondering how you’re feeling about everything that’s going on?” Then sit back and listen. Avoid giving her a lecture or putting her on the defensive. Use the conversation as an opportunity to remind your daughter that you love her unconditionally, no matter what she does.
● Make a date to hang out, just the two of you, and focus on doing, not talking. Suggest some activities, and then let your daughter choose one. It could be as simple as going for a walk together (physical activity is a particularly good way to connect), or you could suggest a new activity where she can take the lead, reflecting the fact that you see your daughter as older and more mature than she used to be. Keep in mind that tweens are very self-conscious and may be embarrassed about going on a ‘date with Mom’, so you may want to consider an activity that won’t put your daughter in contact with (or in sight of) her peers. When you’re together, keep things light, and just enjoy the time together. Don’t use it as an opportunity to ‘pounce’. Instead, save the serious discussions for another time, and just be together.
● Write a letter to your daughter’s older, wiser self. Imagine she’s a mother and needs advice on how to handle her tween daughter.
● Get support for yourself. Vent to your partner or a friend so that you can get perspective and take your daughter’s behavior in stride.
Your family is going through a transition, and transitions can be tough. You may have to use some trial and error to see what your daughter responds to. Keep in mind that as much as it hurts, attempting to separate from you is a normal developmental stage. Be patient, give your daughter some space, and remind yourself that the storm will blow over. And let us know how it goes.
Holly & Julie
Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.
You can email them with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
[Photo Credit: PinkStockPhoto]