Discipline for older children
Is anyone else with a tween struggling to navigate this new territory? My oldest has turned 9 and is slowly starting to move from child to pre-teen and back again. Sometimes he is still very much a child – with all the giggles and cuddles and behaviours typical for children. But sometimes, he will take himself off to his room and want his own space, his ‘privacy’ or prefer to socialize with his friends over having some time with the family.
Last week we talked about time outs and what to do instead and this week is all about discipline for older children. Particularly what to do about back talk, the walking off, the downright refusal to do as you ask, or the constant negotiation.
I’ve noticed different things resonate with my oldest compared to what works for my younger two. I have also noticed a shift in how my 9 year old behaves in front of his friends – for him, it is more important to be ‘cool’ and have quick, fun comebacks to any request I might have for him. The other day when I took him aside about this he openly said, ‘Ah Mum, it’s just because I’m around my friends – I want to be funny and cool and sometimes that means I say or do things in a way that I don’t really mean.’
So the question I have been asking myself is how do I keep connected to him and tuned in to him, giving in to his increased desire for independence while at the same time providing him with kind, firm boundaries? And I think this is particularly important for teens and pre-teens – when they are going through lots of changes, trying to figure out who they are in the world and need that connection more than ever.
But how to discipline?
I’ve been reading various articles and books on this subject and I want to share 5 ideas today on what to do get through to your tween.
#1 Using the principle of ‘connection before direction’. This means that before you ask your pre-teen or teen to do anything, or chastise them, take a few minutes to connect with them. Make eye contact, get a smile or a nod and then ask them to come over to you. Then you speak to them in private and ask them to stop whatever they are doing.
I have been surprised at just how effective this is. And this is exactly how I got my son to very openly and peacefully explain to me why he is ‘cool’ around his friends. After he had explained that to me, he was able to hear my request to stop doing that today or tone it down, because I didn’t like this behaviour. He obliged. I have no doubt that if I had asked him from afar and in front of his friends I would have gotten a simple ‘no’ and he would have run off laughing.
#2 Another thing I’ve been trying and that has been interesting is to allow my children to experience and accept limitations and restrictions. I know that in my house I am often quick to find a solution with (or for them) and to solve whatever limitation they are facing, but what this means is that they really struggle when something isn’t going to work out the way they want it to. That’s when I get lots and lots of negotiation, lots of big feelings and much frustration.
As parents, we need to help our children understand that things don’t always work out the way they want them to BUT that they will still be ok. So this is all about holding firm that limit or boundary first. I’ve been saying things like ‘There isn’t enough’ or ‘He didn’t invite you’ or ‘I can’t let you do that’ and keeping firm in that – rather than trying to fix their world for them or rescuing them immediately.
The second part is then – once they’ve truly accepted the futility of the situation, is to come alongside them and help them feel that frustration and provide comfort. And you can offer things like ‘It’s hard when things don’t work out’ or ‘I know you really wanted this to happen’ or ‘This isn’t what you expected’ or ‘I know you wanted to win’.
I think for me holding firm that boundary first is particularly hard as I often end up trying to move from setting the boundary to helping them feel their feelings too quickly. An example is when screen time comes to an end, my son finds it incredibly hard to switch off and no matter how much warning he gets, he always wants more and it is never enough. So this week, for the first time, I just sat with him, as he expressed all his frustration about not being able to continue on his screens. I said very little, other than ‘that’s hard’, ‘you’re really upset’. He eventually calmed down and we then talked about the whole thing together in a really positive way.
#3 Another thing I’ve been testing (particularly when it comes to screen time coming to an end) is helping them ‘bridge’ back into the real world. When I want my eldest to finish up with his screens, if I have the time, I will sit alongside him and let him show me the game he is playing and what he is doing. And by this – I build a ‘bridge’ between the virtual reality he is in and the real world that I want him to return to. I will sit with him and say something like, ‘Show me one more thing and then we’ll switch off as your time is up’ – and then stick to it. Often that helps prevent a big outburst as he is eased away from the screens in a better way.
#4 Another really important one is all about filling their power bucket and their attention bucket regularly. This is an approach that I really like. For me this helps with both the constant negotiation and the refusal to do as I ask. I know that tweens need more independence and freedom and as parents we need to give them lots of opportunities to practice making good choices for themselves. This not only build their confidence and self-esteem, it also makes you learn as a parent that you can over time let go and trust that they have the skills, knowledge and tools that they need to go out into the world. Because children are able to fill their power bucket in positive ways it also means that they don’t have to do this in negative ways as much.
So how do we do this? We’ve recently started talking about snacks and choices that the children make. At first we thought we’d just ban the unhealthy choices and remove all temptation, but actually my husband and I have decided to not do that – instead we want to give the kids more power and options to decide what and how they want to snack on things (within reason) – and after increasing their knowledge on what is good for them, offer enough healthy alternatives first. I also have started to get the children involved in planning and choosing the meals each week – when they have a say what goes on the table (or in their lunchboxes), they are far more engaged and willing to try new things!
Filling the attention bucket is all about doing something with your child 1 on 1 for about 10 minutes every day. The key is that they pick the activity and you play, read or do whatever they choose to do. It is also about putting down phones and other distractions and really giving them your full attention. With my eldest this is sometimes just walking down to the shops together to pick something up, or talking about something that matters to him, or preparing some food together, or reading together in the evenings.
#5 And finally, last week I talked about the ‘meeting on the couch’ – anyone in the family can call a meeting on the couch and the aim is to both calm down and re-connect when you are ready – rather than one party punishing the other. Once you are on the couch anything can happen – sometimes I will talk about why I feel upset and invite my children to do the same, sometimes we just have a cuddle and don’t say anything for a while, sometimes we both just calm down and then do something completely different for a bit (and then return to the conflict much later to brainstorm together how we didn’t like/ could have done differently). And at still other times the meeting on the couch is about what we want to do that day as a family, or what holiday we want to go on. The thing I like is that (when it works) we all feel better for it rather than one of use feeling worse. And we get to own the problem and the solution together, too. This type of meeting applies to tweens and teens as well – and is far more effective than any time out or punishment, as it builds your connection and relationship rather than isolating each party.
That’s all for today. I’d love to hear your thoughts and continue the conversation in our Facebook group too. You can find the direct link to this in the top right hand corner of this page (the blue link). Or search on FB under MMT Parenting Community.
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