Parenting some preteens can really be a surprise. Some preteens (and teens) slide easily from childhood to adolescence with not even a flap – given their personality, family, or just luck, it is an easy transition. For others, it may feel like quite a challenge for the preteen and the parent. One day you wake up to find that your sweet, considerate, enthusiastic child who loves to spend time with you has been replaced with an irritable, demanding replica. Luckily for all parents (and preteens), the periods of pre-teen syndrome (PTS we call it in my family) are short lived and only come and go – at first.
Do not pretend that the PTS replica will not be back! I suggest every family experiences PTS develop a plan and maybe set up an appointment with a family counselor. This is where it is obvious I am a developmental psychologist. The plan should include information, support and skills.
First, you might need to find information. A great web site for information about preteen health is “We’re Talking, Too: Preteen Health” by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. This site is a good one to bookmark for your preteen and suggest they use it when they have questions about their health. It has resources for parents and teachers, too.
Your plan should also include support and guidance from a therapist and/or other parents – hopefully other parents who want to stay involved and are seeking constructive ways to stay connected to their preteen during this rocky period. The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health and the Preteen Alliance have a web site just for parents of preteens who want to discuss some of the thorny issues affecting preteens these days.
Finally, the plan needs some behavioral skills. My favorite skill or maybe coping mechanism is “do not engage.” When your preteen or teen starts in about how rotten things are, do not take it personally or let the fact that you just spent an hour making his or her favorite dinner color your reaction. If he or she is whining about having to walk the dog or take out the trash, do not let yesterday’s conversations about sharing the responsibility of pet ownership or the increased allowance for chores color your reaction. Be calm, empathetic, and then, when the PTS replica is gone, you can talk about responsibility and allowance – not during the whiny, cranky phase – it will not end well.
Other very concrete skills are 1) use humor; make a joke, stick your tongue out, 2) talk about this being a PTS day and put a dot on the calendar to mark the “cycle;” 3) scream for someone to bring the chocolate; and 4) make everyone a cup of tea and pretend you have lost your voice. Good luck!