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Preteen Boy Does Not Know When to Be Quiet

Question:

My ​preteen boy is having issues with not knowing how to appropriately express himself when he doesn’t agree with something. Can you offer some advice to help us figure out what to do?

Answer:

Pre-teenagers and teenagers have a tendency to feel like they know everything and that their opinion is more important than anyone else's. This often leads them to challenge authority, regardless of whether the authority is a parent, a teacher, or even a police officer.

We recommend that when your son displays this misbehavior (or any negative behavior), you respond with teaching. Teach him a more socially acceptable way to express himself, or how to restrain himself from making any comment at all. Present these in the form of concrete behavioral steps that make up the skill of “Disagreeing with Others.” Give him a good reason for using this skill and then practice it by using a past situation where he didn't behave like you wanted. (We recommend giving "kid" reasons — ones that show a benefit to your son. Other reasons can include avoiding negative outcomes and showing concern for others.)

Here are the steps to the skill of “Disagreeing with Others”:

  1. Remain calm. Getting upset will only make matters worse.
  2. Look at the other person. This shows that you have confidence.
  3. Listen as the other person explains his or her side of the story.
  4. When the person is finished, begin expressing your opinion with a positive or neutral statement (e.g., "I know you are trying to be fair, but....").
  5. Explain why you disagree with the other person’s opinion or decision. Keep your voice level and controlled. Be brief and clear.
  6. Calmly accept whatever opinion or decision is made.
  7. Thank the person for listening, regardless of the outcome.

This is a formal way of teaching the skill. But you may decide you want your son to just keep quiet, take a deep breath, and then say something like, “I don't see it the same way. Can I tell you how I see it?”  If he asks the other person this question in a respectful way, he is more likely to get an "Okay" and be able to continue the conversation.

We also suggest that you generalize your teaching so your son can learn discretion and understand there are certain situations where disagreeing and arguing will get him in trouble. Arguing with a police officer who has stopped him for a traffic violation will earn him a larger fine or worse. Arguing with a teacher will earn him a detention. Arguing with you will cost him privileges and possibly some freedom.

Good luck with this. It sounds like you will have many opportunities to teach and re-teach this new skill. Be sure to recognize and praise your son when he uses or makes an effort to use this new skill. If he is having trouble at first, re-teach the skill and continue to practice until he masters it.

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