My oldest boy has been replaced by an awkward young male trying to figure out if he is a child or a young man, sometimes exploding in an emotional display that I would qualify as both – asserting his independence with both verbal finesse and preschool-like tantrums. Yes, I have a tween. For those who have (or have had) a tween, you know exactly what I am talking about. As a parent you feel the excitement of brewing independence only to realize it is coupled with sassy backtalk as a means to assert said independence.
I must admit, I went through a whole month of total shock and denial followed by another whole month of sharpening my tools as a parent. I now declare back with equal energy, "Game on!”
Similar to a preschooler, those ages 9-12 may throw a tantrum to express their independence. However, unlike a preschooler, tweens are quite articulate, forming reasonable arguments and can have intimidating responses to “no,” not to mention their social needs are intense. Oh, did I mention their social needs are intense? They want get-togethers with friends every second of every day! My life is consumed with talking about friend-time, thinking about friend-time, planning friend-time … and video games, and wanting to know when we can have pizza again for dinner. (Their appetite is remarkable, especially if you have a boy!)
I will never forget the moment I snapped out of denial, it was a lovely Fall afternoon when my rule-following, compliant, always easy-mannered son yelled at me from the top of the stairs that I was ruining his life (his exact words), followed by a very impressive eye roll, and then a glare that instantly made my superhero-strength mom armor activate.
My first response? Anger. Pure, outraged, don’t-you-dare-disrespect-me fueled anger. We stared at each other for a few minutes, challenging each other silently while steam came out of our ears. Miraculously, my brain returned to me before I spoke, enough pressure had been released (thank you steam ears), and I realized that I needed to break the tension or he would not hear anything I had to say and it would perpetuate the problem. So, I decided to go along with this fantasy of his, hoping to stimulate his intellect into realizing the absurdity of his words.
“Well, I’m glad you finally figured it out. Each day I wake up, grab a cup of coffee and say to myself, 'How can I ruin my son’s life today?'” I watched the anger begin to dissipate. “We have a game, you and I. My role is to ruin your life (for which you’ll thank me for one day); and your daily quest is to figure out my master plan. What say you? Do we have a game?” He was trying desperately not to laugh at this moment. I stuck out my hand and he took it, shaking it in agreement.
Now when he displays his displeasure at my response and decision, I say with glee, “You did it! You figured out how I wanted to ruin your life today! You are so good at this game. I will need to come up with something really difficult tomorrow.”
This always turns a moment that could go wrong in so many ways into laughter. Inserting humor does wonders to a temperamental tween, I am learning. There are two proverbs that sum this up well: “A kind word turns away wrath”, and, “Laughter does the heart good like medicine.”
If you have or have had a tween – we need your ideas.
How do you help curb attitude without breaking their spirit?
photo attribution: "Fight," by Philippe Put via Flickr