Got a bratty pre-teen? What parents can do to fix that behaviour

It might be just a phase, but parents need to approach the pre-teen years with "eyes opened," parenting expert Julie Freedman-Smith says.
It might be just a phase, but parents need to approach the pre-teen years with "eyes opened," parenting expert Julie Freedman-Smith says. Westend61/Getty Images

The pre-teen years can be a rough transitional period for any family – adjusting to new attitudes, almost constant bickering and fighting. What’s a parent to do?

Instead of giving into the conflict that is sure to arise, there are things parents can do to make it a smoother conversion into the teen years.

READ MORE: Struggling to connect with your teen? How to get that special parent-child relationship back

The more parents understand what their pre-teen is going through and what can be expected from their behaviour, the better-equipped parents will be able to successfully diffuse the pre-teen years.

The reasons for this change essentially comes down to independence and testing boundaries, parenting expert Julie Freedman-Smith of Parenting Power says.

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This can be the result of a number of things.

First, Freedman-Smith says, it’s because as children get older, they are exposed to a wider range of different people who can influence them.

It might be slightly different than what they’re doing at home, so your pre-teen may be trying out the new tones they’re learning to see what they can get away with.

“Our lives as humans, especially as children, are a lot about testing to see where the boundaries lie,” Freedman-Smith says.

Second is the sense of independence they’re getting and feeling — they’re much more grown up than they were, Freedman-Smith adds.

Third, what kids are seeing in the media can also have an influence in their attitudes.

All these things come together and can shape a pre-teen’s behaviour, Freedman-Smith says.

How far a pre-teen is willing to take their new behaviour depends on the pre-teen.

“I think there’s always a range,” she says. “Some kids are going to really test while other kids are only going to try a little bit of something but not too much. But it’s a pretty typical stage.”

READ MORE: Heavy pot and alcohol use in teens may mean less success later in life: study

Despite it being typical, however, it’s still important for parents not to dismiss behaviour they see as unacceptable just because they anticipate it as part of the phase, Freedman-Smith says.

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This unacceptable behaviour will mean different things to different families, so it’s important that parents set out clear expectations for their pre-teens and let them know about it. This can be anything from language that will not be tolerated, or breaking curfew, etc.

If the pre-teen does break a rule, it’s important not to get into a heated argument over it right away. Instead, sit them down and calmly talk to them about why what they did was wrong, then set out an appropriate punishment. Maybe it’s not allowing them to go out next week, but then trying again the week after as long as they’re able to meet the expectations.

Lastly, help them learn from their mistakes. When kids act out, Freedman-Smith says they’re really saying they don’t know how to conduct themselves in this situation. So be there to help guide them in the right direction by not only telling them what they should be doing, but by leading by example as well.

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