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Parents of Preteens: How to Deal with that Behavior

preteen behavior

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of parenting, it’s that “sass changes.”

It begins when your kid is about two or three. She starts to backtalk a bit – she’ll tell you no. Or when you tell her she needs to sit in her chair at the supper table, she’ll tell you, “you don’t tell me what to do.”

At that point, it’s pretty easy to remedy. Just taking a toy and placing it out of reach atop the fridge is usually enough to curb the behavior. At least for the rest of the night. 

But then she turns ten. And not only does she still continue to sass you, but now she also thinks she’s smarter than you are. It’s frustrating, it’s angering and dealing with it is usually much more difficult than simply taking away a favorite toy. 

So how do you stop backtalk in its tracks? Here are a few things you can keep in mind when you’re dealing with preteen attitude.

There’s a Time for Reason

When my older two boys were young, I did something I’m not sure I should have done, and that’s this: when they asked me a question, I answered them. 

Can I pick up that spider?



Because some spiders are nice, but others might get scared and bite you.

A quick way to learn a toddler sized science lesson, right?

Well, now they’re older. And the questions are harder. 

Can I watch Stranger Things?



They expect a reason because I’ve given them one for so long. But the reason they can’t watch Stranger Things is because of the language. And the themes. And the fact that it’s just not appropriate for kids their age.  

Do they need to know that? No. All they need to know is that “I told them so.” 

There’s a time for reasoning with your child. But there are times when your kid just needs to deal with the fact that you’re the parent. Your reasons for saying “no” may have to do with safety, with morals or with something as simple as scheduling. 

No means no. Learn from my mistake and teach that lesson early. 

Keep Calm and Parent On

It’s pretty common knowledge that, in an argument, raised voices beget more raised voices. 

That’s true in arguments with your preteen, too. 

If your child begins to sass you and raise his or her voice, just take a deep breath. Walk away or calm your emotions enough to address your child with an even, firm voice. 

There’s something I do with not only my kids, but my partner as well. And, when things aren’t too heated, it actually works very well. 

Imagine you’re sitting at the supper table, and your kid starts getting snotty with you simply because you asked about his day. Instead of raising your voice or getting irritated, walk to the refrigerator and take down the sheet of stickers you’ve pinned to it. 

Then walk back to your child and place one sticker on his nose, and another on your own. Tell him he’s got to wear it for the rest of supper time, and you’ll wear yours, too. 

It’s really hard to take life too seriously when there’s an Olaf sticker on your nose. 

Stand Your Ground

I’ve heard it so many times before. 

If you don’t sit down by the time I get to three, we’re going home. 

1… 2… 2 ½ …

No, parents! Count to three then go home! Follow through on your punishment, otherwise your kid’s not going to take you seriously later. 

You may have used the three-count with your toddler or younger child. We’ve all done it. But as your kid gets older, that won’t work as well. Instead, you’ll find yourself saying things like:

If you don’t get off the phone in three minutes, you’ll get no screen time for the next week. 

Four minutes later, if your child is still on the phone, unplug the television and lock up the laptop. 

It’s so easy to give your kid a second chance. But giving kids second chances is dangerous. When you tell your child, “Don’t get into the car with a stranger,” you want him to listen the first time. 

Talk to Your Child

If you think your child is not communicative now, just wait. The hormones are on their way, and you want to build a foundation of trust and communication while you can. 

Use the commute to school or ball practice to chat with your child. Use dinner time to talk about your respective days. And make time to hang out with your kid. He wants to be listened to. 

When my two oldest kids were younger, we began a tradition. One weekend, the older boy would stay with his grandmother, and they’d have a “Me-Me/Kiddo sleepover.” I’d stay home with my younger son and we’d do something special, too. The next weekend, we’d switch. 

I’ve found that taking the time to talk to my kids has given me a lot of insight into what might be bothersome or exciting to them. And by talking to them, I don’t mean pondering philosophy. I simply mean asking, “how’s your friend Josh doing?”

Remember: They’re Just Short Humans

I know you know this, but it’s worth saying anyway. Your kids are short humans. They’re not mini versions of you, and their feelings are no less important just because they’re young. 

If your kid is acting up more than usual, there’s a good chance there’s something bothering them. And that “something” may just be the fact that his body’s changing while his friends’ are not. 

Hormones are very real, even for the preteen aged crowd.  Social pressures, the stress of school and even the intensity of the Little League season can push your kid to act in ways he or she ordinarily wouldn’t.

Make some rules and stand your ground, and don’t always reason with your child. But above all, talk to your baby. Keep it light, and don’t let his stress become yours.

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