A mom wants to know: How to handle preteen defiance?

A got  a note from old classmate a few weeks back and she’s having a little trouble with some preteen defiance. She is looking for advice from our veterans with older kids. Here is what she wrote me:

“He’s 11, in BETA Club, good athlete, attractive, healthy, has a nice roof over his head, always something cooked for dinner. My oldest so is as easy a kid to raise as any child ever has been. This one is going to get the last word in even when he knows it’ll result in restriction. He smarts off under his breath and he believes I favor the older one. The older one is just easier….. I don’t need to correct his behavior as frequently. My little one thinks its personal.”

I wrote back that I didn’t have too many answers on this because my oldest is the same age as her youngest but I would throw it out to you guys for advice. How do you handle preteen (teen) defiance? Is it different when they become teens than when they are younger or just over different things — like driving or going out? Do you need to nip in the bud at this point or it will get worse? How much of pass do you give for raging hormones? (There are definitely days when I know my daughter has some hormones on the rise.)

I think a harder question is how do you reassure the younger one that you love him just as much but he needs more correcting? That is almost as hard to take as I love the older one more. What do you tell him on that matter?

Be nice. She is looking for genuine advice, not snarky comments.

42 comments Add your comment

catlady

March 18th, 2013
5:49 am

Here is a tell, “My little one.” He is trying to show he is NOT little.

I would not discuss his sibling with him, EVER. Comparisons are not helpful.

I would stay on top of it. Be sure he has an opportunity to make appropriate decisions (ie what to wear to school) but there are things that are not up for negociation, that are yours as his parent to make. (Is dad in the home? What is his role?)

Stay the course, otherwise the next 10 years will be VERY LONG, and much more difficult.

catlady

March 18th, 2013
5:51 am

Oh, yeah, and help him find something to be involved in that his older sibling is NOT.

Bob

March 18th, 2013
6:00 am

Clip his toenails

Mother of 2

March 18th, 2013
6:21 am

I agree with Catlady. I had a similar problem with my older son – my 2nd child was easier. One thing I tried to do was to find positive things to say, which wasn’t always easy with a defiant child. Model good behavior. When my older son got angry, I told him that we could talk about what was bothering him, but if he wanted to be treated like an adult, he had to act like one. That meant having a logical discussion. It gets better with time :-)

Misty

March 18th, 2013
6:27 am

I’m a middle child so I understand how the 11 year old feels that the parents favor one child over the other. I would suggest a hobby or sport that the older sibling isn’t involved in. I know that a lot of younger children often feel that they are living in the shadow of their older sibling and/or that they must compete.
As for the misbehavior- it’s normal. She could try taking him out to lunch (just the 2 of them) and they really talk. What’s important to the 11 year old? What is he interested in that he might want to pursue? What does he feel his punishment should be? Here, it might be a good idea if Mom already has some in place that she can tell him ‘this is what will happen if you continue your behavior’ and then stick to it.

motherjanegoose

March 18th, 2013
6:41 am

Catlady’s last two paragraphs are spot on. I also advise that you spend time with them individually and doing something different. Make sure you recognize what HE likes to do, even if you are not delighted to do it. As often as you can, encourage him on his accomplishments and mention, ” We are all different and it is so interesting to watch you two grow up and see what makes you each tick.” My siblings are different and I like to mention that too. Not every person brings the same things to the table.

Currently, I am sharing a unit on spring with children. We discuss all sorts of birds. This year, I have added a crow and we discuss how they are sometimes rude, loud and selfish. Not traits the other birds find interesting for a friend.

This is an interesting quote:
Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo

“As a parent, I love you so much that I want you to be the best person you can possibly be.” Use some illustrations of how little kids do things that THEY want to do but older people see that they are wrong: cry when they do not want to wear their car seat, pull the dog’s tail, reach for a knife etc. It is easier for someone older to see that these things may cause trouble.

REGARDING BABIES….KIND OF OFF TOPIC….an acquaintance posted a video of his grandbaby crawling on the floor at Target behind a red shopping cart. The child then stood up and walked with the cart. He was excited to see the baby beginning to walk and proud too. I congratulated him but mentioned that I would not let my children crawl on the floor at Target and with bare feet to boot. He replied that this is why her immune system is so strong. My thoughts are that there is no telling what is on the floor in Target. Would the rest of you let a baby crawl on the floor in Target? Not me.

We all parent differently, that is for sure! They do all eventually grow up.

motherjanegoose

March 18th, 2013
6:42 am

I typed quite a bit and it is gone….no time for a do over.

Atlanta mom

March 18th, 2013
6:52 am

Civility was a requirement in our home. If a child couldn’t control her mouth, off to her room she went. She could come out when she could be pleasant again. I think that acknowledged that we all have raging hormones at times, but we must learn to control them, or absent ourselves .

Atlanta mom

March 18th, 2013
6:54 am

One other thing– never argue with your child. Once you start that you will have years of arguing. You’re the boss, be the boss.

motherjanegoose

March 18th, 2013
7:01 am

Atlanta Mom…AMEN to your last comment. I think this why children challenge teachers…they do not have a boss at home and think it is o.k. Have a great day all and I hope TWG can find my post.

The Spanker

March 18th, 2013
7:12 am

I’d start by taking away his iPhone and laptop for a week.

Metro Coach

March 18th, 2013
7:17 am

A belt to the backside usually got my attitude adjusted real quick. I can count on two hands the times I had to be spanked, and I did my best not to repeat those mistakes. My dad was always quick to remind me that I was never to big to get a whipping. Take him out to lunch? Ask him what his punishment should be? Oh please, why not just tell him “Do whatever you want, I’m too weak willed to actually do anything about it.” Guess what kid, your parents are going to treat you and your sibling differently. Its a fact of life, so stop your whining and learn how to act right. Instead of crying about being compared to your older sister/brother, maybe you should follow their lead and, I don’t know, ACT RIGHT! Its a wonder some of you aren’t at the principal’s office/police station every week with the way you claim to have raised your children. Ask him what his punishment should be, give me a break.

Decatur Guy

March 18th, 2013
7:53 am

“Be nice. She is looking for genuine advice, not snarky comments.”

Um, hate to break it to you but this is an AJC blog. There’s no such thing as “nice” on this type of forum. Your friend should be asking advice from someone who’s been there and maybe try some good old fashioned discipline. Too many parents try to be their kids “BFF.”

homeschooler

March 18th, 2013
7:53 am

I think she needs to be firm about what is expected. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t try to explain why things are “different” for the older child. Don’t get emotionally involved. Don’t argue. Try to notice what he does well and praise him but don’t go overboard with the praise. Just point out things that he does well that maybe his brother does not.
Another thing, why is is so bad that a child needs to have the last word? My family just doesn’t get bent out of shape about what is said as long as the actions are what the parent wants. For example, if I tell my 12 yr old to do something and he says “UGH” as he does it I couldn’t care less. I know parents who get so authoritarian about having the last word themselves that they make a big deal about it and it just becomes a battle of wills. With a strong willed child this battle is going to be greater than with a more complient child. I’ve always felt that if the kids need to blow off a little steam with me or toward me that’s fine. It has never gotten out of hand. Everyone needs someone they can take out their frustrations on just a little bit. I’m not talking extreme yelling or screaming or hitting. I’m just sayine I’m not going to slap my 12 yr old or put him on restriction if he rolls his eyes at me. I’m just going to ignore that behavior. I don’t know this situation but maybe mom doesn’t always need to be ready for a fight.
Personally I’d rather my kids be a little disrespectful towards me and act right when they walk out the door (Which they ALWAYS do) than to have a lot of pent up frustration from not being able to vent at home and to take it out on other kids or teachers. Some of the worst kids I’ve ever seen have the strictest parents at home.

Decatur Guy

March 18th, 2013
7:54 am

“One other thing– never argue with your child. Once you start that you will have years of arguing. You’re the boss, be the boss.”

Couldn’t have said it better.

DB

March 18th, 2013
7:56 am

The youngest almost ALWAYS thinks you love the oldest one more. And the oldest ALWAYS think that the youngest gets away with far more than they EVER did. It’s the scourge of having more than one child, and the constant acting up is their bid to prove their point or to prove them wrong. :-) Don’t play the game. One response that makes ‘em think is, “So, you want me to treat you both alike? That means you have to do everything that he does, exactly. Are you ready to do that?” First of all, stop feeling guilty for treating your kids differently — THEY ARE DIFFERENT! Part of your uneasiness with his behavior is that you are wondering if you ARE treating them differently. Yes, you are. But that’s OK. When you treat them differently, it’s acknowledging that they are separate and distinct people, with their own needs, drives and goals. They just haven’t processed that, yet.

Second of all — part of the mouthing back is typical for that age. Usually, it’s best to just ignore it. Your older one was probably thinking the same thing at that age, but decided to take the path of least resistance and keep his mouth shut. :-) Hate to say it, but “he’s only doing it because he knows it bothers you.” If it’s actively rebellious, then you have to aim at simple manners: “We don’t do that in this family. You never hear me talking under my breath to your father like that, nor him to me. It’s rude and disrespectful. If you have something to say, I will ALWAYS listen, but you need to figure out a way to say it that doesn’t come across as whining. Whining gets tuned out.”

I also endorse finding something that allows the younger to shine on his own. Both of my kids were pretty easy-going, but the older one had an easier time with academics and standardized tests. The younger one had to work at it, and resented all the honors their older sibling received, and especially resented the “Oh, you’re ___ sister!” One teacher told me ruefully at a parent-teacher conference, “(Youngest) certainly isn’t like (Oldest), are they?” Well, duh! It all works out, eventually — guided properly, they find their niche and grow in their own sun. If the youngest isn’t a big team sport person, consider finding them something “cool” to do — perhaps they’d enjoy fencing, or something like that. Get the youngest in a debate club, when you can – might as well play to his strengths!

One excellent book that helped me a lot in the pre-teen and early teen years was “Parenting With Love and Logic,” It’s a great book for clarifying consequences vs. punishment, and it helps you as a parent make decisions on what hill you want/need to die on :-)

(the other) Rodney

March 18th, 2013
8:51 am

I can certainly step back and let parents do their own way of parenting, and realize that not everyone thinks like I do NOR am I probably right all of the time … but … my opinion is … children and parents should be friends only after the child reaches adulthood.

As a few have said above, be the boss. When they start supporting themselves, you can be friends and have discussions about things but prior to that, it’s boss time. I have a wonderful, respectful relationship with my parents (I’m 42 years old) but prior to me going to college, there were never any discussions or compromises. It was established early on that they were the parents and I was the child. They would ask me once to either do, or not do, something. Anything after that was met with punishment if I didn’t follow their instructions.

10:10 am

March 18th, 2013
9:17 am

A little religious faith can go a long way in securing a better relationship between parent and child. That said, the cynicism of our era toward Christianity (though not other faiths) requires an extra effort to overcome.

The Get Schooled blog today celebrates a Georgia teacher judged by her fellow teachers to be exceptional. And her Christian values are noted as likely reasons for an exemplary approach to the challenges of being an educator.

Too bad the lead article’s author felt it necessary to add a disclaimer to his observation about Christian values—even in saluting a religiously inspired teacher’s apparent excellence.

Too bad, too, that the blog’s moderator initially felt compelled to keep this point from being raised in reader commentary. Religiously inspired teachers do face very real prejudice both within and outside the education community. And being human, they find strength in every bit of encouragement.

We all benefit when they receive it.

Patrick

March 18th, 2013
9:18 am

Whenever I hear or read about parents having problems with their teenagers, I always think back to Erma Bombeck and what she said about how to avoid those troublesome times: Bury your kids when they’re 11, and dig them back up when they’re 21, although some may argue that this is still too soon.

Techmom

March 18th, 2013
9:19 am

On some level the reaction of the parent should be geared toward the kid and his personality; there however should be ground rules about what behavior is acceptable and what is not regardless of the kid and consequences should be enforced consistently.

I think it would be interesting for the mom to ask the son, when he’s not angry or upset, how exactly he feels like he’s being treated differently. I’d venture to guess there have been one or two instances in which he feels like he got a more severe punishment than the brother and now all of a sudden, the brother is the favored one. This age is prime for turning something that happened once into something that “ALWAYS” happens.

Decatur Guy

March 18th, 2013
9:23 am

10:10 am

Maureen is a big lib. What do you expect?

jarvis

March 18th, 2013
10:07 am

“the cynicism of our era toward Christianity (though not other faiths)”

Right…..cause the Muslims and Jews are having a dandy time. Sterotypes abound on neither.

Linda

March 18th, 2013
10:39 am

A lot of good advice given already. “Don’t argue with your child” is a big one. We are very authoritarian and have three well adjusted late teens/early 20s. Respect is a big thing in our household. We never said “Because I said so” but that is pretty much what we meant.

If I ask you to do a chore and you roll your eyes (our kids favorite thing as a teenager) you would get immediately reprimanded and told to do the chore. However, if you had a rational conversation where you felt you were unfairly being asked to do more than the others, we would listen and consider your opinions.

It is possible to maintain a good parent-child relationship through the teenage years, but it is not easy. You do need to give your child some freedoms, but only after they earn those priveleges.

HB

March 18th, 2013
10:42 am

I agree with Techmom about talking to him when he’s not upset, and make sure you really listen to what he has to say. Mom said “he believes I favor the older one” — he might just be “taking it personally” as she says, or she may actually be favoring the older son. She says the older one is just easier — maybe so, or maybe their personalities have always just clicked better. Parents rarely say it or probably even allow themselves to think it, but often I think they do like one more child more and the other picks up on it despite best efforts to treat children equally (and that could be why he’s being difficult). If that’s the case, maybe instead of, or in addition to, finding him his own activity, Mom can find a hobby or activity they both enjoy and can do together — that might help them find a bit of common ground and have their own bonding that’s not tied to or compared with the relationship Mom has with his older brother.

roughrider

March 18th, 2013
10:49 am

Make sure he pays a price each time he is defiant.

xxx

March 18th, 2013
12:32 pm

Always rememebr, the worst vice is ADvice. I wonder if we asked the kids of these self proclaimed parents of the year if they would tell the same story? Most “my way or the highway” parents end up making weekly visits to the state pen.

And, xxx...

March 18th, 2013
12:53 pm

…you quantify that result how?

Professional advice?

March 18th, 2013
1:11 pm

A good friend, whose kids are both in college now, gave me books and CDs from the Parenting with Love & Logic series by Jim Fay. It has worked well so far with my daughter and I’ve still got a lot to read. No one way is for everyone but the important thing is that you keep trying until you find what does work for your family.

penguinmom

March 18th, 2013
1:19 pm

Defiance is actually often a little worse at 10-11 than later at 16-17. Kids are just really stretching their wings and trying to determine who They are as an individual so they want to do things ‘their way’ or have their own opinions. They don’t even the small amount of maturity teens have so they tend to be more reactive and not even try to ‘get along.’

We went through some of this with my daughter who is very strong-willed. There were a few things we did that seemed to help (at least in the long run if not right then).
1 – she takes after me, so I was able to discuss (not in the heat of the moment) how being strong-willed was good and bad. I set aside specific times to talk about being yourself without offending everyone around you. I agreed that life wasn’t fair and that she would be in trouble more than most just because she had strong opinions.
2 – we discussed that being a pre-teen/teen means specifically that your brain is not developed and that it doesn’t handle all the input in a mature way. We discussed studies that showed that teen brains react completely differently to stimuli than adults do – needing a high level of stimulus in order to get a ‘good’ feeling; turning off the decision centers whenever they felt too ‘good’; and using the decision centers to make what adults would consider obvious (viseceral) choices {i.e. do I eat a live roach? – Adult: NO; Teen: hmmm… let me consider, I guess… No}.
This gave us a baseline so that when emotions got out of control, we could be sympathetic and mention that part of what was happening was just teen brain. Didn’t always make her feel better in the moment but it did allow her to see that it wasn’t just ‘parents vs kids’ but sometimes ‘herself vs her brain’.
3 – Humor. When we got a good eye-roll over something we said, we would applaud or ask for a second demonstration instead of getting mad about ‘lack of respect’. No, she didn’t always see the humor. We developed our own way of talking to each other that I’m sure horrifies a few of our friends but it works for us.

I will say that it is hard raising a strong-willed child without being too harsh on them. If you can avoid the words ‘You have to…’ and can give options and acknowledge their ability to make choices, it will be a tiny bit easier. I grew up feeling like the ‘Bad kid’ even though I knew my parents loved me. It took me many years to come around to realizing that a lot of what i what got me in trouble was the clash between my strong-willed nature and my dad’s and that it wasn’t that I was ‘Bad’ just that neither of us could give in.

Avoid any comparisons with the older child if possible. There really isn’t a true comparison between an easy-going child who naturally complies and a strong-willed one who naturally doesn’t. It is not that the easy-going child is actually trying harder, it is just that his personality makes complying more natural. It is a True struggle for a strong-willed person to give in on anything. (”you can’t make me because I am willing to die on this hill” is a thought that goes through a strong-willed child’s head often but would never even enter an easy-going child’s brain.)

I suggest reading ‘The Way They Learn’ by Cynthia Tobias for a good discussion of different personalities/ways people view the world. It is a book about learning styles but it really is about how we take in information and process it so it covers a Lot more than just learning.

Finally, I’d suggest reading ‘The Five Love Languages of Children’ or the one about teens. Mainly, to try to figure out what Love Language your son uses/needs. Then go out of your way to express love for him in that language.

Remember this too will pass. Look ahead to his early adult years when you will actually enjoy his company again and set your sights on developing the relationship you want with him then now.

catlady

March 18th, 2013
2:11 pm

My youngest doesn’t “grant authority very easily” as a respected teacher at church said. And I started to apologize, but she said, “No, you don’t want her to grant authority easily. When she is 14 or 15 and her friends propose to do something stupid, you WANT her to say, “No, not for me. I’m not going to do it.” And she was right. Sometimes I had to remind myself of that ruefully. “There she goes, not granting authority very easily” I would say to myself. “How glad I will be one day.” And, I AM.

catlady

March 18th, 2013
2:13 pm

I guess I must have treated them equally badly, because they each think I favor another. One time, in complete exasperation, when one of them said, “But you don’t love me like you love…” I said, “You are right! I guess you have figured it out.” There was a very long silence, then the child said, “But you..”and went on to list ways they knew I DID love them. Which was kinda the point.

FCM

March 18th, 2013
2:26 pm

@ catlady did you see my post about the daycare? I am praying y’all into a great one!

motherjanegoose

March 18th, 2013
2:31 pm

I lived in a “my way or the highway” house and none of us landed in jail. My Dad is still pretty much like this and I can only tolerate it so far.

As an educator, I knew all about setting boundaries but remaining flexible. My two often pushed the limits but they knew where the line was drawn. I really enjoy them now as young adults 20 and 25…most of the time. They still laugh about the stupid stuff they did as kids. I tell them now, ” If I get old and crochety like _____ give me a kick in the pants!”

I am curious about the item I mentioned at my 6:41 posting this morning on the baby in Target. Anyone?

jarvis

March 18th, 2013
2:36 pm

The babies immune system isn’t strong from being exposed to filth.

Over use of antibiotics have been shown to cause some auto-immune problems and a weaker than normal immune system, but that’s a far cry from letting a child waller around on a floor that’s having the general public and unwashed shopping carts walking all over it all day.

jarvis

March 18th, 2013
2:37 pm

I meant antibacterials not antibiotics.

Just Me Thinking...

March 18th, 2013
2:55 pm

I like a lot of the advice that has been given. What I think is interesting is the fact that parents struggle with their kids on an idividual basis (unless they have twins or kids close together) teachers have to deal with not just 1 kid with these or worse behaviors, but at least 22. I know it’s got to be enough to make a person run screaming down the street.

I will add that sometimes the “You love _______ more than me” argument is used to make the parent feel guilty and back off or give in. It may be true is some cases, but in most situations it is reserve ammo. Kinda like the “I hate you” statement. Granted I would have never said I hated my mom or dad because it’s something that once said can’t be taken back. What if they said it back to me (they wouldn’t have). Also I was terrified that it might be the last thing I ever said to one of them. I had a friend whose mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was around 8 and she was 10. It puts a lot of things in perspective for the teenage years.

tina

March 18th, 2013
4:05 pm

I dont understand why parents feel the need to “argue” with their children. Whatever you say should be law….period. And a smart answer is liable to get you punched in the throat around here. Homey dont play that!!!

catlady

March 18th, 2013
6:57 pm

FCM yes thank you very much! MJG and I have also discussed this. I really appreciate your sharing your experience!

K's Mom

March 18th, 2013
7:59 pm

My kids are little, so we are not there yet, but my husband has a teenaged daughter from his first marriage. He will tell you she is the most combative and defiant child he has ever seen. He will also tell you he is partly to blame since he and his first did wife nothing to discipline her ever and are now paying a big price.

So my advice is to be extremely introspective and make sure you are not teaching an old dog new tricks. Start setting boundaries and expectations at a young age. It is so hard to say no to a little person, but we are the bosses and just have to do it.

motherjanegoose

March 19th, 2013
6:36 am

@ K’s Mom, since you have little kids…would you let them crawl on the floor at Target?

Teacher, Too

March 19th, 2013
12:22 pm

John Rosemond has several good books about parenting. I have recommended Ending the Homework Hassle to many of my students’ parents. He has a weekly column in the AJC’s Saturday paper. I find his advice spot on…

K's Mom

March 19th, 2013
12:58 pm

@MJG…under no circumstances would I let my children crawl on the floor at Target. The germs for one and number two they need to learn that the whole world is not a playground, sometimes you just have to sit still in a place that is less than fun.

@Teacher, too, John Rosemond is my hero. I met him last spring and felt like a 13yo meeting Justin Beiber. Parenting by th Book is the single best parenting book on the market.