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MOUTHY PRETEEN

Question:

Do you know what website I could go to or give me some information on how to control my daughter's mouth. She is very verbal when she gets upset. I am divorced, but have been remarried for 5 years, and she is Basically very rude to step father who is more than generous to her, and she still treats him nasty, and in public she is nasty when she gets embarrassed or if things don't go her way. Is it the age, or is the divorce, do I need to get her to counseling, or is this something I can try to fix at home.

Mary

Answer:

All of your questions are good ones, so I'm going to take them one by one. First, is it the age? Well, research and experience tell us that adolescence begins much sooner these days than it used to. Most parents report that pre-teens (ages 10-12) are often mouthy, easily embarrassed by parents, and moody. It's also true that many adolescents these days feel a sense of entitlement: they genuinely don't "get" that adults want to be treated with respect, or that young people don't actually have the same rights and privileges as their parents and teachers. Getting into your daughter's world to understand her physical and emotional development will give you important clues about her behavior.

Second, is it the divorce (and your remarriage)? Possibly. You don't say what relationship (if any) your daughter has with her birth dad, but divorce and remarriage do have a significant effect on children. Just because you have fallen in love with your husband does not guarantee that your daughter will love (or even like) him. She may be missing her own dad; she may be angry at you for the divorce. Research tells us that it takes stepfamilies anywhere from three to seven years to truly settle in and feel comfortable. You can practice good communication skills by getting beyond your daughter's behavior to her feelings and listening to what she has to "say."(Remember that her body language and behavior are forms of communication, unpleasant as they may sometimes be.) Ask for her cooperation and respect; let her know that affection and trust for her stepfather may take some time. Family meetings to solve problems together may help. For more information, see Positive Discipline for Your Stepfamily.

Another possibility is that she may not be getting training and practices in how to be respectful. Some parents (I'm sure this doesn't include you) are either too permissive or too strict and then wonder why their children rebel and act disrespectful. Some parents think is it helpful to lecture their children about being respectful (even though if they watched closely they would see that their children tune out to lectures). There are many ways to help children practice the skills of respect. One is through family meetings where you start with compliments. Every one learns to look for good things to say about each other and to verbalize what they see. This takes practice. Then they can focus on solutions by brainstorming for ideas that would solve the problemand that would be respectful to everyone. Just including kids in the process is very respectfuland they are more likely to follow plans that they have helped create.

Another is to model what you will do instead of what you will make her do. When she talks rudely to you, just walk away. Don't react, and don't say a word. Actions speak much louder and words. What you are modeling is that you can't make her respect you, but that you can respect yourself my not standing still for verbal abuse. (Wouldn't it be wonderful if she learned this way to show self-respect when others are verbally abusive to her?) Later you can follow through by saying, "Honey, I know we both love each other and I know we can have a respectful relationship. Now that we have calmed down, why don't we find a solution to the problem that would work for both of us."

Last but not least, do you need to take her to counseling? You may not "need" to: but a skilled and compassionate family therapist can help all of you learn to talk, to listen, and to solve problems together. Young people often respond well to therapy (once they get there) when they understand that it is a place where they can sort through their feelings and find understanding.

There is undoubtedly a lot going on for your daughter right now. Her behavior needs work, but finding out the beliefs and feelings behind her behavior will help. It's never too late to begin.

Good luck!

Cheryl L. Erwin, MA, MFT, Certified Positive Discipline Associate and Co-author of Positive Discipline The First Three Years, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, Positive Discipline for Single Parents, and Positive Discipline for Your Stepfamily.

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