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Tween Discipline - issue1234

Dealing with Defiance

When children start to turn the corner from the preteen years to adolescence, they seem to ​transform from small, happy beings who love life and adult company into larger, strange, moody beings who look at life more darkly and despise adults.

There are several reasons for this. Primarily, because of the way their brains are wired, tweens are typically bored by the things adults want them to do. ​They’re also beginning to see their parents in a different light. In a tween’s eyes, ​parents are no longer heroes who can do no wrong but are suddenly fallible and human, which means their authority can be questioned. Finally, tweens start to experience an intense desire for independence, even though they know they’re still dependent on their parents for things like money and transportation. This can lead to resentment and defiance.

When defiance happens — and it will — it’s important to meet it with teaching and effective negative consequences. Here are some tips:

    1. Don’t just correct the behavior; teach your tweens what they should do instead.
    2. Deliver consequences dispassionately, like a police officer issuing a traffic ticket.
    3. Choose consequences that are appropriate for the “size” of the negative behavior (e.g., don't ground your tween for a month for not taking out the garbage).
    4. Use consequences that will have a meaningful effect (e.g., taking away video game privileges might be much more effective than banishing tweens to their rooms, which is where they might want to be anyway).

In this age of smartphones and computers, one of the most effective negative consequences is restricting your child's access to technology. Tweens consider their communication devices to be as important as food or oxygen and will quickly toe the line if they’re separated from them.

In addition to issuing effective negative consequences, it is important to try your best to maintain a positive and open relationship with your tween. If they know they can trust and count on you, they’ll be much less likely to become defiant in the first place. A positive relationship also helps when giving out a negative consequence because your tween will understand they are receiving it for a specific infraction, not because you don’t like them.

Teaching Activity

Strengths and Qualities Worksheet

When children reach preadolescence, they can have a difficult time seeing their positive qualities. Having them fill out a Strengths and Qualities Worksheet ​can prompt them to think about and list the good traits they possess.

Social Skill

Showing Respect

This skill will come in handy throughout your child’s life, so it’s good to teach it early. Children will find, too, that they’re more likely to get what they want if they begin by showing respect to others. Here are the steps to teach your tween:

  1. Obey a request to stop a negative behavior. When you obey a request to stop a negative behavior, you show that you can follow instructions, which is one form of showing respect.
  2. Refrain from teasing, threatening or making fun of others. By choosing not to participate in these behaviors, you demonstrate that you understand they can be hurtful to others.
  3. Allow others to have their privacy. Sometimes people need or want to be alone. You can show respect by following their wishes.

Coming up in Issue 2

Peer Pressure


Role-Play Resisting Negative Peer Pressure


Choosing Appropriate Friends

Peer Pressure

Children are affected by peer pressure from the first time they play with siblings or other children. You can't make peer pressure go away, but you can teach your children how to deal with it. And, although we often think of peer pressure as bad, it is possible for your children's friends to influence them in positive ways.

Negative peer pressure is insidious. It is probably the No. 1 reason children get into trouble. It’s also the reason it’s so important for your tween to fall in with the right group of friends. For example, two siblings, raised by the same parents and with the same values, can turn out wildly different based on the groups of friends they choose as tweens and adolescents.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, we encourage you to develop and maintain positive, open relationships with your tweens. If they feel they can trust you and rely on you, they’ll be less likely to give in to peer pressure and more likely to talk to you about it afterward.

It is also crucial to teach your children to think for themselves when others try to pressure them to do something. The SODAS method of problem-solving can come in handy here. Before acting in a particular situation, have your tween consider the following process:

  • Situation — Assess the situation and who is involved.
  • Options — Consider the options for resolving the situation, both good and bad.
  • Disadvantages — Determine the disadvantages of each option.
  • Advantages — Determine the advantages of each option.
  • Solution — Consider the options and their disadvantages and advantages, and formulate a solution.

Again, peer pressure isn’t always negative. If your child hangs out with a group of “good kids,” then that crowd may consider it “cool” to get good grades and participate in positive school activities, such as sports or music. Your tween’s choice of peers is extremely important, and you should closely monitor their interactions and relationships with other kids.

Teaching Activity

Role-Play Resisting Negative Peer Pressure

For this activity, you should come up with a variety of potentially negative situations — smoking, drinking alcohol, trying drugs, etc. — and then role-play with your tween how they can make the right choices in these situations. You can take turns being the “good” and “bad” peer in each situation. Role-playing is not only fun but also prepares your tween to respond appropriately in real-life situations.

Social Skill

Choosing Appropriate Friends

One of the most important ways to reduce the dangers of negative peer pressure in your tween’s life is to help them choose the right group of friends. Have them consider the following steps:

  1. Think of the qualities and interests you look for in a friend.
  2. Look at the strengths and weaknesses of potential friends.
  3. Match the characteristics of potential friends with activities and interests you would share.
  4. Avoid peers who are involved with drugs, gangs or breaking the law.

Setting Expectations and Boundaries

When it comes to disciplining tweens, you must first set expectations and boundaries for them. After all, if they don’t know what’s expected of them, it’s not fair to punish them for violating a rule that is known only to you.

When teaching positive behaviors that you want your tween to use, it’s important to first establish expectations. As we mentioned earlier, children can’t be expected to “do the right thing” if they don’t know what that is in the first place. It should be noted, too, that “the right thing” may mean something different from one family to the next. So it’s up to you as a parent to decide what expectations are right for your child.

Common expectations include having tweens maintain a certain level of academic performance before they can participate in sports or other extracurricular activities. Tying academic performance to their use of a smartphone is another common example of setting expectations. Other examples might include keeping their room clean and performing household chores before participating in social activities with friends. The key is for tweens to understand that to enjoy privilege B, they must complete task A.

When it comes to boundaries — such as how late they can hang out with friends or which video games or movies they’re allowed to enjoy — you must clearly explain those boundaries to make sure your tween understands them. For instance, your tween should know they must be home in time for dinner at 7 p.m. or make arrangements with you ahead of time if they are going to be late. They also should understand that they are not allowed to play video games that are rated M for mature. If you catch them playing an M-rated game and respond by taking away their gaming privileges (which is completely appropriate), then they should never be able to say, “But, Mom, I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to play THAT game!”

Tips for Setting Expectations

During a neutral time when everyone is calm, call a family meeting and list the behaviors you expect your tween (and other children) to use. You can even type up and print a “contract” for both you and your tween to sign. This will avoid any ambiguity and prevent your tween from engaging in negative behavior and then claiming they “didn’t know” it was forbidden.

Again, developing and maintaining a positive, open relationship with your tween will make these goals much easier to achieve. It will also make it much more likely that your tween will come to you for help if they encounter a questionable situation rather than simply throwing caution to the wind and engaging in a negative activity.

Teaching Activity

Role-Play Different Expectations

Different adults have different expectations for children. For example, parents expect different behaviors from their kids than teachers expect. Have your tween role-play with you as you pretend to be different adults in your tween’s life. For instance, you can pretend to be a coach as your tween asks to try out for a sport. You can then ask your tween about their academic performance and whether it merits involvement in school athletics. Other potential adult authority figures you can pretend to be include police officers, store employees and teachers.

Social Skill

Asking for Clarification

Many negative behaviors result from misunderstandings and poor communication. Children will naturally push boundaries, and if those boundaries aren’t clear, they will argue incessantly about why they should be allowed to do what they want to do. Teaching your child how to seek clarification can help resolve that ambiguity. Teach them these steps:

  1. Look at the person.
  2. Ask if the person has time to talk. Don’t interrupt.
  3. Use a pleasant or neutral tone of voice.
  4. Specifically state what you’re confused about. Begin with, “I was wondering if …“ or, “Could I ask about …?”
  5. Listen to the other person’s reply and acknowledge their answer.
  6. Thank the person for their time.

Positive Consequences

Studies show that parents who balance the use of positive and negative consequences when responding to their children’s behaviors are seen as more fair and reasonable by their children. Acknowledging your child’s positive behaviors with praise or a positive consequence makes it more likely they will continue those behaviors. In fact, we recommend that parents try to praise their children four times as often as they correct them (the 4-to-1 rule). If you consistently use positive consequences, then you'll probably be more pleasant and effective with your children, and they will be more likely to listen to you.

One of the fundamentals we teach parents at Boys Town is to try to “catch children being good.” It’s easy to recognize bad behavior. After all, bad behavior gets noticed right away. Good behavior, on the other hand, is expected, so when your tween uses it, you’re less likely to notice. That means that unless you condition yourself to look for good behavior (catch them being good), you’re likely to issue only negative consequences. The result of this could be that your tween tries to avoid you because they see you as focusing only on their mistakes.

Recognizing positive actions and issuing appropriate positive consequences, on the other hand, can not only reinforce behaviors you want your child to use but also make the negative consequences you give seem fairer in their eyes and thus more effective.

So, the next time your tween cleans their room or takes out the garbage when asked, try simply praising them. You could say, “Thanks for taking out the trash; I really appreciate it.” Or you could up the ante by saying, “Since you took out the trash without me asking, you’ve earned an extra 15 minutes of TV time tonight.” Be careful, though. If you issue rewards for expected behavior all the time, your child will come to expect them, and they’ll no longer be special.

Over time, you can dial back the rewards until the satisfaction of doing a job well or accomplishing a goal becomes the reward. This is known as “fading,” and it allows you to free up certain tangible rewards — like the 15 extra minutes of screen time mentioned earlier — for other positive behaviors you observe.

Teaching Activity

Joy Cards

Joy cards are a fun way to issue positive consequences; they’re simply notecards with the name of a reward printed on them. You can give your tween a joy card whenever you “catch them being good.” We’ve created a bunch of cards​ you can download, print and give out when your tween uses a positive behavior. Of course, these are only suggestions; we encourage you to create your own joy cards and tailor them to your tween’s individual interests and likes. In fact, it might be even more fun to have your tween create some cards, too. (Seeing what rewards they come up with also can give you a bit of an insight into your tween’s ever-changing brain.)

Social Skill

Doing Good Quality Work

As you issue positive consequences for positive behavior, you’ll notice that your child will become motivated to do better at just about everything they attempt. To help them reach that point faster, you can share with them the following simple steps for the skill of Doing Good Quality Work:

  1. Find out the exact expectations or instructions for the task.
  2. Gather the necessary tools or materials.
  3. Carefully begin working. Focus your attention on the task.
  4. Continue working until the task is complete or the criteria are met.
  5. Examine the results of your work to make sure it was done correctly.
  6. Correct any deficiencies, if necessary, and check back with the person who assigned the task.

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