Thursday, November 17, 2011

Surviving Tween/Teen Daughter Tantrums

A couple of years ago, when Sylvia was 12, sucked. Her mood swings were completely unpredictable and she was far too big for time-outs. I've never considered myself a patient person, and I was fairly convinced that I'd used it all up to survive her toddler years. I was at a loss.

I wrote a desperate email to sweatpantsmom, begging for survival tips. If you've read her posts (or lucky enough to know her, as I am), you won't be surprised that her response was thoughtful, funny and chock-full of empathy for my situation. Just the validation was helpful.

She mentioned something about finding her "Zen," her peaceful place in those moments where your hormonal daughter is pushing all of your buttons.

My previous methods for finding my Zen place during Sylvia's toddler years were no longer effective. Consequences weren't working, even trying to lock myself in the bathroom wasn't working. I would try so very hard not to respond, but she could see that she was close to breaking me and sometimes, she did.

After the email exchange, I felt rejuvenated enough to try something new.

The next time Sylvia got out of control, instead of trying to order her to her room or leave the room myself, I would think of something that needs to be done in the room. (And hey, something always needs to be done.) I would wash the dishes, sort the mail, dust, anything that was an accomplishment of sorts that didn't require thought.

That productive act would allow me to be distracted and also feel okay about myself. Sylvia would continue to taunt me for a while, but when she could see she was no longer getting to me, in frustration, she would go to her room. After she'd calmed down, she would come back and apologize to me, and it would be over.

I've never known telling someone to "calm down" to be effective in actually calming anyone. Telling Sylvia to calm down didn't help; telling myself to calm down wouldn't help. I think the reason this method works for me is that it's not trying to dissipate that energy, but instead, use that energy proactively. And no matter how small, it's hard to feel angry or frustrated when you've just accomplished something!

To be clear, Sylvia is not a horrible child by any means. With a little distance, I knew that she was just overwhelmed. It was partly hormonal, but mostly, just being a 7th grader - the worst grade we've had so far. And part of the gig is that she knows she can pretty much do anything, and I'll still love her. I've created that safe haven for her, sometimes to my own detriment. Still, that's who I am as a parent.

I remember being on the other side, too. I remember feeling like things that seem trivial now did indeed feel like the end of the world back then. As I said in my post to my mom, I took full advantage of her unconditional love as well.

This is just what it means to parent a tween/teen daughter. (I can't speak for the other gender.)

I was talking to a friend of mind about this tactic, and it occurred to me, I don't think I wrote about this back then. As Riley will be 12 and in 7th grade next year, I could use the reminder!


Tara R. said...

That was a creative and productive way to defuse a challenging situation.

Anonymous said...

I worry about my daughter's teenage years and she's just 3!!!

Thank you for this post.