Understanding why you may be the target of your tween’s ‘tude
The minute the office door closes, the friendly mom smile fades into a frown. “She’s so mean, she made me cry! Can you do something? I mean can you fix this? Where did the old Callie go? We want her back as soon as possible.” And so goes the rant of a parent of a child who has clearly officially reached tweenhood.
From a developmental perspective, the tween years are a time when children’s minds begin to expand. They start to think and reason in more sophisticated ways. Their awareness of the outside world grows quite quickly. It is at this stage that children see themselves in the context of the world at large. They begin to compare and judge, to consider just how they seem to measure up to others. Concrete, black and white thinking starts to give way to more abstract ideas. With this comes questioning and a sense of individual autonomy. Tweens start to test the waters around them, to affirm their own thoughts. It is at this point that parents see a shift in their children’s responses to them. For many tweens the ole, “Do it because I told you to,” no longer motivates. Instead requests for explanations and discussions, and even sometimes arguments ensue. The tween years could easily be renamed the snarky years for a slew of children. If this does not describe your experiences no need to read on…at least not now.
The Hulk Lives on
Combative kids seeking to affirm their individual opinions and identities often start to argue back. In the beginning these new responses may seem charming even sweet, but sassy starts to lack luster when you’re the target.
I remember how my own child described their older sibling what seems like an eternity ago, “Look mom, it’s like the Hulk.” From the mouths of babes, that simple sentence seemed to clearly characterize my experience; how my child could go from the mild mannered, kind, caring and smart Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby’s character in the Hulk TV series from the 1978-1982) so quickly to his ferocious alter ego, the Hulk.
It’s not Personal
If your child lashes out when you make a simple request or ask a question it can certainly be upsetting. The thing is, that as hard as it may be to believe, such a response is rarely really personal. The tween years are often marked by feelings of awkwardness and emotional unrest. Tweens, like teens are egocentric, it’s actually developmental. While their new ability to use abstract thinking also signifies skill in using perspective taking, it is not their natural inclination. A snarky remark or sharp attitude may have more to do with their managing their own feelings especially embarrassment. Unfortunately when and what will lead to this embarrassment can be quite unpredictable. They are so sensitive at these ages that almost anything they perceive has the potential to make them blush. Parents in particular tend to unwittingly fuel more feelings of embarrassment than anyone else in their lives. Suffice it to say that tweens tend to perceive parents as a reflection of themselves. This is why your innocuous comment or even a compliment can cause intense reactions such as annoyance or even anger.
Fleeting Moments of Feelings
Another mark of the prepubescent years (aka tweenhood) is the brevity at which feelings pass. One minute a tween is angry and upset, the next she maybe sweetly asking what’s for dinner; acting as if a recent rant never took place. This can cause confusion and concern for parents who never quite know who to expect will joining them at the dinner table: a moody nonresponsive tyrant, or a sweet, sincere, kind, caring, and chatty child.
Explanations not Excuses
So while you may now have a better understanding of why your tween may act hurtful or rude, an explanation is not offered as an excuse. As a parent you are one of the most important people in your child’s life. They learn a great majority by observing reactions and behaviors that are modeled to them by you. A good way to address the issue is by letting your tween know just how their comments make you feel. An upfront and honest approach is often the most helpful. This is how you encourage them to see things from another person’s point of view.
Parents are People too
Tweens often underestimate the impact of their words and actions particularly on their parents. Because you are their rock, the child in them assumes you have thick Teflon skin off of which their snarky remarks and reaction bounce. Essentially they seem to forget that parents are people with feelings too.
Be Clear About Consequences for Bad Behavior
Actions or behaviors naturally result in reactions and of course consequences. This is an important rule that governs the universe. Parents are best served being clear about what types of behaviors are not tolerable. Talking with tweens about exactly what they think constitutes fair consequences for unkind words and behaviors can be helpful in hitting home for them that their behavior is hurtful. It empowers them to take responsibility for their actions through reparation.
If you are the target of your tween’s tirade you make wistfully wonder what happened to your sweet and sensitive child. It is in these moments it is important to remind yourself that this too shall pass. In the wink of an eye with your support and guidance, your temperamental tween will grow into an adult you can admire.