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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Preteen & The Stepchild

A friend of mine is fighting the good fight. She is dating a man with a son. His son is 12. I'm no expert, but I know a few things about this subject. I have a son who recently survived the preteens. My daughter is currently a preteen. They are both the stepchildren of my 2nd husband. I am a step child.

My friend asked me for help so I am going to post up what I know and I encourage all of my mommy friends to weigh in. :)

A preteen stepchild can be a challenging beast. Many agree that this is a stage in life where parents must learn to pick and choose battles. This means you may always be "right" but you will not always get your way, mom & dad.

The hormones of a preteen are surging hourly. They can change faces ten times a day. It reminds me of exorcist. I dislike it immensely. Doesn't matter because we have to accept it. You do not have to like their attitude but you do have to accept that this is not who they are...it is who they are right now.

Your preteen will likely do drastic things. In recent years I have heard of preteens getting caught doing drugs, stealing, committing acts of violence, vandalising property, having sex, cutting themselves, and various other things. Those are not preteen issues people. Those are behavioral/environmental/sociological issues. If your child is "acting out" then this is not the subject for you. Acting out by cutting off your bangs like a toddler is NOT in the same category as a child who is breaking the law and/or putting their lives at risk. If your child is that severe you should be speaking to your family Dr. asap.

Dealing with a preteen can be fairly painless, most days, if you let it. Yes there will still be those days...but they will be less frequent if you don't rock the boat.

I told my husband when our preteen daughter came into this stage that the best thing he could do was stand back, do not make eye contact, and let me handle things. I doubt he remembers that conversation. He still pokes a stick at her from time to time. I'm sure it is harder for men to deal with girls that moms to deal with boys. I find my boys to be easier than my girl. Just being honest here. :)

The most important thing is to be rational. Do not speak to your preteen out of anger...unless their infraction was serious...like it could have got them hurt, or dead. If you are pissed then you tell your child "I am very upset right now. I am going to walk away for a minute and we will discuss this when I calm down."

Take a walk. Think about what they have done. Think about how important this act will be in 6 months. A year. At graduation. I suspect that 95% of the things they do will not matter at all. Some of them will not even be worth remembering.

When you go back to talk with the child it is best to speak in a factual manner. Leave the emotions in your chest. Tell them that you are disappointed in their choices because of X-Y-Z. You want them to know that you will not tolerate this behavior because you know that they are smarter/better/capable of more. Whatever works to finish off the sentence with a compliment. Tell them the consequences for their actions. Give them a hug and let them know that you hope that next time they make better choices. End of discussion. Do not engage the child in debate. Do not worry yourself about getting in the last word. I promise you that you will lose that battle, even if you think you won. They can speak under their breath in  a tone that only dogs can hear!

When it comes to the every day stuff...keep it light and simple. Just tell them like it is. No passion. No anger. No heat. No engaging in heated battle.

"Andrew, pick up your shoes and put them in the mud room where they belong. You know that they are a triping hazard in here.
Leave it at that.
Andrew may sass mouth and he may grumble under his breath. As long as he is doing what I directed him to so...I ignore the sass. If you acknowledge the sass...it will hang on longer. It will. I guarantee it.

Is backtalk respectful? Of course not. Is it acceptable? No. Is it worth rocking the boat if it is only an occasional occurrence? Not in my opinion.

So...what do you do if you have a child who seems to have an attitude all day, every day? There are a few options.

You need to sit the child down and have a family meeting. They need to be told what is considered back talk. You need to make sure that there are NO loopholes. Kids are sneaky. :)

Once you have established WHAT is considered backtalk you establish the rule. No back talking. You get one warning and that is all. After the warning you have to hit 'em where it hurts. If they like money...deduct from their allowance every time they talk back. Are they video game junkies? They lose gaming privileges. It may be for the night, or a set time frame. ie: My son gets 30 minutes of gaming time for a school night. I may deduct 5 minutes from that for every time he back talks me.

The punishment cannot always fit the crime when it comes to preteens. It has to be something that will gain their attention. It has to be an actual consequence that they will feel and understand. Now...if they do not like their clothes and they decide to burn them...natural consequence for me would be to wear what you have for a week. If it's just the outfit on yoru back...that child would be washing that outfit every day until they showed some regret for what they did...and even then the clothes would be replaced at the goodwill, and sparingly.

There is a very, very important step to discipline.

 I feel this is the MOST important part of raising a child.

You have to, have to, HAVE TO praise your child! You have to. Not every 5 minutes. Not every hour. You should be finding a reason to praise your child every single day. Life has to have balance. If you are constantly on your child for being bad...their self esteem takes the hit. The only thing you are teaching them is that they are bad...not that they did a bad thing. Finding a reason to praise him everyday shows him that you love him and are devoted to him. That you want him to succeed and that you believe in him!

Here are some examples from my every day life to share with you.

When my 8 y/o comes home from school he always gets off of the bus with a frown. We have come to expect this. He takes a stimulant and it has worn off by the time he gets onto that bus. When he comes home he feels like he is losing control of his emotions and behavior. He knows what is coming. Poor decision making.

As he walks into the door I greet him. I hear d once on Dr. Phil that the first thing a child should see is how they light up YOUR eyes when they enter a room...or something like that. So, every day I greet him with a huge smile and wide eyes and I say "Hi Dane Patrick! Hoe was your day?"

We may spend 5 seconds talking. We may spend 30. It depends on his mood. I have found that dedicating the 5 minutes to him makes a world of difference in how soon he is going to consider pounding his 4 y/o brother. =/

When any of the kids do something good/helpful/nice I thank them. I go out of my way to find out who picked up the piece of trash on the floor, or who put the phone book away. I make sure that person knows that I appreciate them, and their help. Guess what? They like feeling good and it makes them want to help more. Most days. Honest!

You have to treat your preteen like an adult but handle them with kid gloves. There is a delicate balance between modeling them into productive members of society and beating them into becoming that not-so-model citizen.

Have patience. Take a mommy/daddy time out. Deep breaths. No yelling. Think about what YOUR actions/reaction will teach them. Think about how your action would make you feel if you were that child's age again.

Don't be afraid to have open dialogue about behavioral issues with your preteen. They can handle it. They want the truth. They want to be good but they may not be ready to admit it. I have a teen son with ASD and another son with ADHD and I use these methods for them just the same as my other 2 children who are on target with their behavioral development. My husband struggles to hold onto these methods. The reaction he gets vs. the one I get makes it very clear how differently they respond to us based on how differently I think we treat them. This is why I know in my heart that these things work...at least for me.

Good Luck to us all! No one every prepared us for these years. We thought picking the right car seat and day care was really important stuff, didn't we. Haha! Kidding. ;)

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU SO MUCH! I love the idea of Mommy/Daddy time out. Thank you for defining the difference between a tantrum and really "acting out." Pre-teens can go back and forth between little kids and young adults. You never know which you are going to get. I have to ride the wave of the emotional roller coaster. Yes, yelling is bad. Bad, bad, bad. More importantly it is ineffective. We are still working out what my "role" is in the family, but we are just navigating right now with love.