You want your preteen to do some simple task, but the answer is a curt “no.” You quickly launch into lecture mode, and your child responds with eye-rolling or arguing.
While you probably don’t like these battles, you’re actually witnessing signs that your middle schooler is taking steps toward adult independence. Overall this quest for independence is a good thing; you want your child to become an adult capable of making good decisions.
But right now, you are where you are — in a power struggle with an 11- or 12-year-old. What do you do?
- Enlist your child’s help. Have a calm conversation removed from recent battles. Ask something like: “We know that we love each other, but lately we end up yelling a lot (or whatever behavior is showing itself). What can we do to make our home one where we show our love for each other?”
- Listen to his answer. This is the hardest part. Don’t be defensive. After you’ve heard him, offer some of your own ideas. Together you can arrive at a solution.
- Make sure your child knows your expectations. Post a list of chores on the fridge or create a “responsibility” notebook. Add a line, similar to many professional job descriptions, that says “the boss” (Mom or Dad) can assign other appropriate tasks to be done without complaining.
- Give rewards for compliance. “We agree that you’ll receive an extra half hour of TV-watching (or video-game playing) for each day you immediately follow through with instructions.”
- Lay down some consequences. As your child heads toward independence, he’ll be expected to obey society’s laws. For example when he drives, he can’t exceed the speed limit or he’ll eventually get caught and have to pay fines. Agree on a fine system. If your child gets an allowance, deduct 25 or 50 cents every time he argues or is disrespectful to you about something you say or a task that needs to be completed. If he runs out of money, add chores to work off the debt.
By enlisting some of these ideas, you’ll be teaching your child some valuable life lessons that will prepare him for true independence in a few short years.