Help, our daughter is getting attitude ahead of schedule

Dear Jenny Jackson

Our daughter started at intermediate this year and we’re already seeing the start of a distinctly teenage attitude. There is eye-rolling and shoulder-shrugging whenever she is asked to do anything, and a distinct lack of enthusiasm to take part in any family activities. People have been telling us ‘just wait until she’s a teenager, she’ll be trouble’ since she was about two, and I don’t want this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though she is at intermediate, she is one of the youngest in her year and I want to lay down some good foundations to see us through the teenage years, which will definitely bring us challenges. What can we do now to deal with this attitude, and keep the lines of communication open in the years ahead?

Jenny’s tips

What very wise parents your daughter has! It’s great that you’re thinking ahead and wanting to make sure you’re on track for this next developmental stage. This is the stage where the quality of your relationship with your emerging teen is your most important asset. Previously you’ve been able to say, “These are the rules,” and rely on a good level of compliance. Now the relationship needs to come first and the rules sit on that foundation. Our goal here is to gradually hand over responsibility to our young people as they mature and learn the skills necessary to become capable and resourceful adults.

How do we ensure we’re building a positive relationship? One on one time with your daughter will be important – try to make use of short conversations in the car on the way to activities, take her out for hot chocolate or her favourite food – food works really well with teenagers! Be creative – whatever you can do to share positive, relaxed, fun time together. Research has shown that keeping our kids connected to us, their schools and activities are essential to their well-being and mental health. Show genuine interest in her world of friends, music and special interests. Do you know who her mates are, what kind of music she’s listening to and why she likes it? Do your eyes light up when she comes in the room – as if you really do like her? Keep up the little gestures of affection. Shoulder squeezes and winks are good if hugs are no longer possible.

Eye-rolling and shrugging are, I think, pretty universally irritating to parents, but they offer us the wonderful opportunity to demonstrate self-control and patience! We can handle it a number of ways. Ignore it and carry on with whatever request we’re making. Use humour (make sure it’s warm and not sarcastic!) – try, “Sadly the maid is off tonight so the dishes are all yours!” Acknowledge how they feel about the task. For example, “I know this isn’t your favourite thing, but I need your sheets in the wash today, thanks.” If the attitude is becoming more frequent we can nip it in the bud with, “Hey, you’re usually so polite with other people, what’s going on? Are you okay? Try that again with your manners please.”

With family activities you can start to negotiate. Come to an understanding about the ones that are non-negotiable. It may be visits to or from grandparents and one family activity a fortnight. Can she invite a friend to some activities? Perhaps there are others where she can organise to go to a friend’s place instead. Having our teens negotiate with us is fine as long as it is done respectfully, at a convenient time, with the understanding that the outcome will sometimes be ‘no’.

Above all else, we need to be steady and calm with our teens. Predictability and fairness are great characteristics to demonstrate. If you need time to think, say so. Teenagers need to practise taking time to think before making decisions sometimes too.

The outcome

We appreciated the options to deal with eye-rolling and shrugs as we’d started to feel like we were getting stuck nagging, and dreading where this would end up. Humour is working great and feels so much better for all of us. Thanks for the reminder to keep doing things together. We had been doing this as we’re still all involved in football as a family. But we’ll keep our eye on this and try to take opportunities as they present. We really do want to have good relationships with our kids and for them to enjoy being part of our family. Thanks for the tips. We’ll let you know how we get on.