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The Pre-Teen War: Learning How to Pick Your Battles

June 16, 2014

preteenwarThe pre-teen years put your tween on a journey toward freedom and independence, yet he or she is still in a stage of life where supervision and guidance from parents and nannies are crucial. While yearning for that freedom, it’s common for pre-teens to exhibit frustration with rules, often leading to battles and cries of “that’s not fair” or “why don’t you trust me?”

This stage in life is crucial for your tween, but it can be challenging to weather the storms as they roll in – including battles about social engagements, friends, school work and even their clothes. It may be necessary to pick your battles to keep the peace. To do this effectively, you have to learn how to choose which battles are worth fighting with your pre-teen and which are better left alone.

Recognizing Common Issues

Pre-teens are currently exhibiting emotional phases that include moodiness, resistance to authority, isolation, risk-taking and contrariness, says Tina Tessina, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.

“Pre-teens have a desire to be an independent person with resulting overwhelm about this,” says Tessina. “Plus, they have a need to bond with peers and distance from family.”

However, at this stage in life, pre-teens do not always have judgment about the wisdom of most of their experimentation, so they run into problems, says Tessina. “Since most of their current experiences are new, everything is blown way out of proportion,” she says. “A crush on a boy is a life or death matter, as is wearing just the right outfit.”

Know that your pre-teen’s dramatics may be a cry for help, as she is facing pressures at school, with friends and at home. “Children today are faced with pressures from friends, school and family all while they are trying to navigate raging hormones and changing bodies,” says Raquel Lefebvre, Vermont-based licensed psychologist. “On top of all this, they are also trying to figure out who they are. Keeping this in mind when dealing with your child will help you come from a place of empathy where you can work with them rather than against them.”

If your children know that you are on their side, they will be more likely to work with you, says Lefebvre.

Choose These Battles

As a parent or nanny, it’s important to recognize what your teen may be facing or feeling; however, in the end, it is your job to keep your child safe. Therefore, there are battles that you will have to fight to ensure your child’s safety.

“It’s crucial to insist that you know who your child is spending time with,” says Tessina. “A bad influence, at this stage, is very tempting to a child and has the potential to be devastating.”

Pick the battles about where they are going, what they’re doing and whom they are spending time with, but approach the battle in a calm manner. “If you aren’t reactive, stay calm and stick to your guns, you’ll have an easier time,” says Tessina. “Don’t let bad behavior win. Taking away electronics is the ultimate punishment at this stage.”

Safety also involves proper hygiene and self-care. It’s worth the battle to insist your child takes care of himself by bathing regularly, wearing deodorant and brushing his teeth. In addition, permanent body marks, such as tattoos and piercings are worth the battle.

“You may be able to forestall a battle by promising they’ll be able to make these decisions for themselves when they’re older,” says Tessina.

Learn to Compromise

Battles with pre-teens can be blown out of proportion if the two of you do not learn to compromise. Instead of picking apart every outfit or shade of nail color, compromise and choose your battles carefully.

“Pink hair, strange fingernail colors and odd clothing combinations are not worth the battle,” says Tessina. “Only insist on being reasonably covered up and also insist on reasonable dress when they’re going out with you to someplace significant.”

Instead of initiating an argument every time your pre-teen tests the boundaries, Tessina recommends starting with a reasonable discussion. “You’ll do better if you don’t approach everything you have to set a boundary for as a battle,” she says. “Ask for information, explain what you aren’t comfortable with and then draw a line if you have to. Giving your pre-teen a chance to cooperate first is a better idea than battling.”

When you take the time to ask questions and discuss compromises with your pre-teen, it shows that you are willing to satisfy both your needs and your pre-teen’s needs. “Balancing your concerns with the needs of your pre-teen can be just as challenging as your pre-teen navigating the pressures he or she feels,” says Lefebvre. “Remember that it can be easier if you work together and keep the lines of communication open.”


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