Parenting preteens and adolescents can be tricky. Hopefully, by now you have taught them how to eat without making a mess and to go to the bathroom on their own, but that doesn’t mean that you’re done teaching them everything they need to know. If your pre-teen or adolescent is rude to you and argues about everything you say, your work in guiding them to adulthood is just beginning. It may not be easy, it probably won’t be fun all the time, but with a little understanding and sensitivity, in most cases you will do just fine.
The first thing behavioral experts say is that rudeness, argument and acting out may be normal behaviour as a child’s brain matures and the child separates from his or her parents. Difficult behaviour can arise if the emotional center of the brain develops faster than the intellectual part. Shelja Sen, a child psychologist in Delhi, says, “The teen brain is like a powerful car being driven around by an amateur driver. The emotional brain is the turbo engine that is raring to go but the driver is unable to keep it under control.” So while your child may feel complex emotions, making sense of them can be hard on him. This could cause him to act impulsively, be rude and withdrawn or act out.
Another reason that your adolescent may ignore you, argue with everything you say or refuse to follow instructions is that he or she may be trying to separate from you, become his or her own independent person. This change can come on suddenly. Your child may not realize that this is what she is trying to do, and sometimes it may feel easier for her to act out than to try to discuss and work out a conflict.
Therefore teenage behaviour experts counsel parents to accept that this is a natural part of growing up. Knee-jerk reactions and punishments for disruptive behavior may be tempting but try to be calm and to approach the situation in a more rational manner. You are the adult, after all. Here are a few tips from someone who has worked with teenagers for over 30 years:
- Do not take it personally. Realize that your child doesn’t dislike you in particular and would behave that way no matter who was the parent. Therefore don’t react emotionally to what your child says.
- Set boundaries. This does not mean giving him a free reign on insolence. While it’s okay to tolerate an emotional outburst now and then, calmly set boundaries on what goes and what doesn’t. For example, encourage your tween to express his anger and frustration in a productive manner. Let him know that it’s okay to convey his dissatisfaction with you but using rude or foul language to do it is stepping over the line and won’t be accepted. This will also help your child learn to deal with his emotional difficulties and communicate better to solve conflicts in the future.
- Avoid a power struggle. In the heat of the moment, you may get drawn into responding emotionally to your child. Your child then knows that he or she has the power to emotionally manipulate you. To prevent that, remember the first rule, don’t take it personally, implement the second rule by stating the boundary or behaviour you expect, then disengage. If the child says hurtful things or acts rude, say that you are willing to continue the discussion at a later them when he or she is ready to communicate properly.
- Plan ahead. If you have already had a verbal battle, don’t expect it to be the last one. If you are seeing signs of teenage rebellion, prepare yourself for battle. Put on your armour and prepare your weapons. That means remembering to mentally ignore anything hurtful or personal and knowing what boundaries you want to set and being ready to communicate your reasons and expectations of proper behaviour. Also remind yourself that you have to be consistent, determined and that it’s your job as a parent, no matter how unpleasant the going gets.
- Be there for your child. Taking time to bond with your child is another way to ease the pains of growing up. Often, we spend so much time correcting our kids and carting them from one place to another that we forget to actually take time to get to know what’s going on in their lives. Sometimes the best way to overcome strains in a relationship is to just casually talk and be with your child. It builds trust and aids communication much more effectively than stern correction or punishment.
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