Dd1 is 9 years old and speaks with contempt to her sister. It is also leaking through in her interactions with me. I am making it clear I won't be spoken to that way, that I speak to her with respect and I expect the same to me.
It's just the beginning here. She just turned 9. WTH am I going to do as the years go by and she gets more deeply immersed in the teenage years?? I feel like I have to nip this in the bud now before it sets up a terrible cycle over the next 5-10 years. I understand this is developmentally normal to some extent but I don't like it. It makes for poor morale. I am working on helping her to be more compassionate, empathetic and friendly to dd2. It works sometimes... 2 steps forward, 2 steps back.
I'm a veteran of three teens and an 11-year-old and haven't had much difficulty with backtalk. That either makes me eminently qualified to give advice (since I have been able to minimize the problem) or completely unqualified (since I really haven't had much experience coping with it). On the possibility that there's more of the former at play than the latter, I'll throw out these general principles.
First... you're absolutely right to make it clear that hurtful language shouldn't be accepted. That means more than just saying "That isn't an acceptable way of talking to your sister." It means never rising to the bait and engaging with the negativity, never responding with harsh words or anger of your own, since at a basic level that's what hurtful language is designed to do: hurt the recipient. Work on perfecting instead a questioning raise of the eyebrows that says "Is that really how you should be speaking?" a slight lop-sided smile that says "Oh dear, there's that pre-teen attitude thing again" and a little sigh that says "I really expect better of you than that." It also means never using sarcastic eye-rolling or harsh tones of voice in your own interactions with your kids, on the phone, with your partner. It means expressing and modelling empathy for the recipients of your own verbal output.
But here's the other thing. I think that kids and parents tend to get embroiled in negative patterns of interactions because there isn't much else to counter-act the prevailing atmosphere. We parents, being the grown-ups, need to fix that. We need to take responsibility for engineering situations and activities and conversations that facilitate positive interactions, that leave us feeling good about our family and our kids. If we feel happy about our kids, it's pretty certain that they feel happy about us. And if you can maintain that atmosphere, backtalk will be a much rarer phenomenon, an exception to the rule rather than the prevailing style of interaction. It'll be a shocking "wow, I wonder what's up with her!" experience rather than an exasperated and angry "why does every word out of her mouth have to be laced with vitriol?" thing. Putting energy into creating positive interactions so that you and your adolescent aren't spending most of your lives angry at each other seems like a no-brainer, but it's actually very hard to do. It requires rising above the petty negativity, of course, but that's only part of it. The other part is that there's this prevailing belief that creating positivity is rewarding negative behaviour. That if your pre-teen has been snarky all week, taking her and her younger siblings out for mini-golf and ice cream on Saturday frees her from the consequences of her nasty behaviour. Don't buy it: just keep telling yourself that nurturing your relationship with your adolescent is the most important thing you can do as the going gets rough. Go laugh yourselves silly at mini-golf.
Good luck! Hope this is at least food for thought.
Has she been having any trouble at school? My kids were super close until DS hit 3rd grade and started getting bullied. At that point, he just stopped tolerating his big sister. It spilled on to DH and I occasionally but it was really DD that turned into the enemy. His sister hadn't changed. She had the same habits that she'd always had (that can honestly grate on all of us at vulnerable times) but his tolerance for her really tanked as his insecurities increased.
I can't say I have the answers. It's much better now for them at 13 and 17 but it does still pop-up at times. We always try to stay calm and ask him what is wrong.... what is REALLY wrong. There always seems to be something outside the family that builds up until he explodes on us. Talking it out makes him apologetic and close to us again.
Something to question about at least.
That means more than just saying "That isn't an acceptable way of talking to your sister." It means never rising to the bait and engaging with the negativity, never responding with harsh words or anger of your own, since at a basic level that's what hurtful language is designed to do: hurt the recipient. Work on perfecting instead a questioning raise of the eyebrows that says "Is that really how you should be speaking?
I agree with all this. One thing that helped me was to stop before saying anything, and inhale and exhale slowly, and then make a careful choice about my words and tone. You really have to be on your A game.
As far as how she is speaking to her sister, I've heard it from both of mine towards the other, and I've dealt with it by sitting them down and calmly explaining that I love and care about their sibling, just as I love and care about them, and I won't have any one being rude to them. When I put it in terms of how much I love and feel protective of THEM, they do better understanding that I'm not going to allow crap toward my other child. YKWIM?
But here's the other thing. I think that kids and parents tend to get embroiled in negative patterns of interactions because there isn't much else to counter-act the prevailing atmosphere. We parents, being the grown-ups, need to fix that. We need to take responsibility for engineering situations and activities and conversations that facilitate positive interactions, that leave us feeling good about our family and our kids.
I agree. We upped family fun time and started more one-on-one time with mom. We take time at the dinner table for each family member to say one thing they are grateful for.
My parenting style is both very warm and mellow, but very hardcore about a few things. We play lots of board games, go fun places, and I talk to my kids about their favorite books and TV shows (even though I don't really like them). But if they are rude, then I just look at them, and pause,
and say something like, "Do you want to try that again, or do you need a break in your room before you try it again?"
I'm very zero tolerance about how they treat others. I think it's really all we have that determines what sort of person we are. It's more important that grades or how clean their room is or how many little accomplishment they collect. Its worth pausing everything else in life.
I do fine actual teenagers to be a heck of a lot easier that adolescents. My teens are quite lovely, but a few years ago they were driving me nuts.
I have two girls with a 3 yr age gap, too, but my older dd really doesn't have the sassy preteen/teen thing going on. I have heard my younger dd get into it occasionally.
Check your media! The mean girl sassy attitude is prevalent in lots of pre-teen targeted TV, movies, videos, books, etc. My dd2 is more apt to pick up on it, but thankfully she mostly identifies with the kid who stands up for the bullied victim rather than the bully. Occasionally this results in her getting her back up, "you can't treat my friend that way!", in situations where she really doesn't need to, making a mountain out of a molehill, but I appreciate her sense of justice, nonetheless.
Regarding media consumption try to watch TV/videos with your kids, read with them and call out the characters on their bad behavior even if it's the protagonist who is supposed to be cute and sassy, but may veer into sassy mean-girl territory. Likewise try to point out positive behavior in real life — if she does something nice, especially. But also point out positive behavior of your friends and family ("that was so nice that dad picked up takeout—he knew how tired I was today" and "Sophie's mom is so kind — she always says something nice to me about blah-blah-blah when we see them") as well as positive behavior in the media/books.
Beyond media, if you need to intervene in an interaction between your kids, try not to name names in front of the other sibling unless the behavior is egregious. Just remind them all of playing nice, "Hey kids, please remember to use kind words and tone with each other." If you need to call out your 9 year old, do so in private, not in front of the other kids for the most part. If she has done something really blatant, "you are the stupidest, dumbest, retard!" then sure, come to your younger kid's defense, "Dd1, don't talk to your sister like that. That's unacceptable behavior and language." But if it's just general eye-rolling and "whateverrrr" and "ugh, really" and "I can't believe you actually LIKE that show/book/character" snarky pre-teen stuff, then a general "hey kids, watch your attitudes" is appropriate in my book.
Calling the older kid out in front of the other kids puts her on the defensive and is less likely to be effective in getting her to recognize her behavior. You're more likely to get something back like, "But she IS stupid. Just look at her with that dumb stuffed bunny! And she doesn't even know how to multiply yet!" which also just makes the younger sib feel worse. If you take the 9yr old aside and call her on her behavior privately you minimize her loss of face in front of her sibs and may reduce the defensiveness somewhat. You may still get some of it, though.
I'm all about the old school, "How would you feel if...". My kids have pretty good imaginations and are usually able to empathize pretty well with how it would feel if the tables were turned.
I think nipping this in the bud, as you mentioned in your original post, is an excellent idea.
I have two teens -- ages 13 and 17. Sometimes, they don't realize how they come across. Sometimes, I don't realize how I come across. I might have something on my mind and my very sensitive-relational youngest teen asks if I'm upset with him. I have to explain what I was thinking and also thank him for being direct with me.
The approach I take, and have always taken, is sort of three-fold with all discipline:
1. Keep all tanks on full (play with my children, speak their "love languages" daily -- whether that is time shared, words of praise, physical affection, etc.; feed my children whole, clean foods and make sure lots of healthy snacks are visible -- much grumpiness comes from blood sugar; and make sure my children have rest, down time, and time to talk to me ... as teens this includes walking together each day -- amazing what someone will share when not eye-t-o-eye but side-by-side
2. Humor. Life can be so serious and intense. We're all intellectual introverts here, so I try to keep it lighten the mood with music, with jokes, with silly voices and phrases. I first assume that no meanness was meant and gently redirect.
3. Boundaries. We teach our children to assert these healthily by doing so ourselves. "You might not realize how your tone is coming across to me. I need you to not say X or to say Y." People do need to be courteous. I have to apologize when I'm not, and so do my children.
How is everything else going with your nine-year-old? You might try some one-on-one time consciously created for a bit.
Personally, I think it's good to intervene with big and little sibling dynamics and to make sure that they are kind and to also kindle empathy. I have to often gently correct my eldest, telling him that my youngest is so seeking his approval and to be careful of negative energy -- often coming from being tired or irritated about something else -- leaking onto little brother.
Be careful that you are setting a good example. I knew a family in which the mother was critical and complaining and prone to be impolite and assertive. They lived in our neighborhood and she would talk on the phone or to others outdoors, long critical heated tirades about why other people didn't meet her expectations. All this was done for hours in hearing of her children (as well as the neighborhood :frown:). The older daughter was extremely defiant and cruel to her siblings and friends and was having trouble in school. The mother couldn't understand why, though it was clear to those of us who knew her that the mother was teaching her child by example to disrespect others.
Contempt, IMO, is not typical teenage behavior. Defiance is. Contempt is serious and not a phase - contempt is hatred.
You may also want to observe her playmates to ascertain if she is learning this from others and if so to limit or eliminate those influences from her circle while you still have influence.
There is a lot of good advice here in other posts.
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