4 Strategies to Survive an Angsty Tween
I have a breaking point. I think it's safe to say we all do.
Life at home is good, thankfully. But our days are often, what's a nice way to say this, spiced up with "phases" our kids go through. There are Sleep-Issue phases and Crying phases and Needy phases (sometimes all at once). Right now, in my house, there is a brand new phase. And I'm not sure I can take it for much longer.
My oldest tween has turned into a crotchety, scowling shrew before she has her breakfast, and occasionally beyond breakfast.
I'd like to say I maintain a calm, zen-like poise through sassy retorts, rolling eyes and blatant disrespect.
I mean, if an adult - a peer or a friend - talked back to me or made a face like she drank expired milk I would be in utter shock (unless she drank expired milk). Most of the time, we're civil to one another. This is polite society, after all. At least in theory.
My youngest tween has resorted to donning earphones when her sister's volume is at peak level. My newly angsty-in-the-AM Tween is polite once she steps out our front door. She's a delight in public to her teacher and classmates (or so I'm told). While that's a relief, it doesn't make me feel better at home. In the beginning of this Grouchy phase, I found myself repeating these excuses for her behavior morning after morning:
- Sleep. She didn't get enough sleep.
- Stress. She's so stressed and anxious about the new school year
- Food. She needs food.
But right now - at the height of this "phase" - she gets to bed on time, is loving school and she is not starving.
After one particularly snarky morning, I told her that I was going to count her facial spasms and condescending comments and when I got to 10, she owed me a dollar. Luckily she does not like to spend, or lose, money so this did the trick that day.
It's hard thinking of something on the fly that is both impactful and that doesn't also affect my life and ruin another mom's afternoon (like taking away a playdate or a sleepover). Though I acknowledge that those are powerful tools and I could be pushed to do it. I am Mom, hear me roar.
So why is my oldest tween suddenly hailing from Planet Rude?
I know the answer, we all do. It's hormones combined with the rumblings of a newfound, innate desire to seize independence and to stand apart, alone. Which is what she needs to be in these moments. Alone. And that's hard for me, probably for many parents, since my go-to has always been to hug her when she's feeling out of sorts. I have always encouraged her to talk to me when she's struggling. But neither of these things is working. Recently I began using a new approach and, for the most part, it's working.
Ignore it, don't ignite it.
It's really very simple, though less so in practice:
1. Be quiet. For me this is hard, because I'm a talker. I like to talk things through. I want to know why something is happening so I tend to ask and prod and push to get the words flowing. But that's not working because instead our voices rise and frustration and anger erupt. Instead, I'm learning to keep my mouth shut. I turn my back and focus on something else. Once I even put on my headphones and put on music while doing dishes just to stop the back-and-forth. If you can't talk, you can't yell, emotions won't bubble over and this quiet space allows for thought and reflection. For both me and my daughter.
2. Go away. Her or me. When we're in the thick of it, voices are rising and negative energy is escalating, we need space from one another. I usually start by instructing her to take a break, go be by herself in her room. Maybe take a walk outside or sit in the hammock. But there are times she refuses to move from her spot. In these cases I leave. Regardless of what I'm doing, I walk away. Walk the dog. Retreat to my room. Sit on my deck or call a friend. Even ten minutes apart can diffuse the tension and disarm my daughter.
3. Wait. Be patient. The kids we know and love are still inside their newly emotional skins that are prickly to the touch. If we allow them their space, don't push them on topics they can't or don't want to discuss and don't engage when they're irrational, they will come around. In fact, often they emerge and their regret is evident in their faces. If they had tails, we would see them wedged between their legs.
4. Talk later. After whatever incident transpired and time has passed, perhaps the school day is over and everyone is in a different state of mind, you can talk. Ease in by asking about his or her day. Typical, safe questions. Once you verify your kid is in a good frame of mind you can talk calmly about what happened. I find the word "disappointed" is extremely effective when I tell my kid how I felt about her behavior. Yes, it shames her. As it should. To date, every time we have one of these conversations she apologizes and we end up in a good place for the rest of the day.
Things have improved in the past couple of weeks with my new approach and I highly recommend trying it if you're hitting a wall with your own tween. The last morning that my daughter blew up at the family we maintained our calm and moved on with our morning without giving her attitude any of our attention. As she walked out our front door on her way to school, I stood at the front door, watching, with a heavy heart. It always makes me sad to watch her go after a hurtful time, knowing we will both live with it throughout the day.
She turned back to look at me and in her eyes I saw a four year old who wanted desperately to run back for a hug, but instead offered a wave and enormous brown eyes. It's just a phase, I told myself for the umpteenth time. But it's the truth.
If you have any strategies that work with your angst-ridden tween please share! Remember, it takes a village of parents with tweens.