“Hormone” is a word that strikes fear in the hearts of many otherwise confident adults. We have all heard horror stories of how sweet, loving children suddenly turn into screaming, tearful tyrants who may just be capable of seriously harming themselves or others.
While that may be the case in some homes, I think there are things parents can do to lessen the negative effects of hormones on your tween’s behavior and your own sanity. I have used many of these ideas in my home and have seen them work for my friends and their now adult daughters when they were in the tween stage.
These tips for “tween whispering” (or “teen whispering”) are in no particular order, but hopefully you will find a few of them work for you too.
1. Pray for your child. I know many of you are thinking, “Duh.”, but I want you to pray for your child with a twist. Instead of praying your child suddenly becomes the person you want her to be (with the behaviors you want her to have), pray you can help her find the path God has set for her. Pray her relationship with God will grow stronger each day and she will turn to Him for answers and guidance. Pray for God to soften your heart towards your child. Pray He will allow you to see your child the way He sees her, with all of her potential and gifts. I think I know one of the reasons God has told us to pray for our enemies. It’s really hard to stay mad at someone you are actively praying for (and not against!). Your child is not your enemy, but his negative behaviors can make you very angry with him. Praying for him will help soften your heart so you can guide him more effectively.
2. Don’t take your child’s anger personally, but don’t allow it to continue unchecked. This may be the hardest balance to find in parenting. It is really easy when the eye rolling, name calling or the “I hate you’s” start, to take it personally and get angry and defensive. The angry, defensive place is probably the worst frame of mind to be in when you are trying to discipline and correct a child. If you can stay in a calm, level place emotionally, you will handle the situation much better and your results will improve. No matter what ugly things may come out of your child’s mouth, on some level is a little kid begging for her parents to love her through the pain and anger she doesn’t really understand herself. She needs to see that love (and not rage) in your eyes as you correct and discipline. (On a side note, “I hate you” has never been allowed to be uttered in our house. “I am really, really angry with you” is encouraged instead.)
3. On the other hand, do not ever let a child be disrespectful or use “hormones” as an excuse for poor behavior. I loved the way one of my friends handled this. If one of her children was revving up into the tween tantrum equivalent, she would calmly ask the child to remove herself to her bedroom. My friend never allowed her girls to use their hormones as an excuse to treat others poorly. As she explained to them, if you allow yourself to behave poorly towards others every time your hormones fluctuate, no one will ever want to be around you. She encouraged them to rant, scream or cry all they wanted to in their rooms, but their hormones raging did not ever allow them to be disrespectful or rude to others. The calmer and more consistent you can be in this demand, the more quickly your children will learn to self-monitor their behavior. Eventually, once they can feel that inexplicable anger start to rise, they will go to a quiet place on their own and do something soothing until they can get their emotions back under control.
4. Outside of hormones, the tween and teen years are filled with a lot of drama, in part because their friends are allowed to act badly when their hormones rage. Give your tween and teen children a safe and welcoming place to talk out their frustrations, hurt and anger at what is happening in their lives. I know many adults brush off these discussions as trivial and meaningless wastes of time. I can assure you, the events in your child’s life are as stressful to her as the potential of your house being foreclosed would be to you. Treat your child with the same respect you would want from your friends if you were going through a job loss or some adult trauma. Not only listen to what your child is saying, but try to hear his heart behind the discussion. Is his heart leaning towards God or starting to pull away? Now is a great time to help guide your child back towards God’s path if he is beginning to wander away.
5. Recognize you may need outside, professional help. If you struggle with your own behavior when you are angry, you may need help from a professional counselor to work through your past and find ways to control your rage. If you think your child may be suffering from depression or a possibly inherited mental illness, run – do not walk – to your child’s doctor. He or she can refer you to someone who can help your child. I am not a huge believer in over medicating children, but there are some times when medicine is the only thing to help balance chemicals in the brain which are dangerously out of order. If your child has had traumatic life experiences, even as seemingly minor as a parental divorce, they may benefit from some professional, Christian counseling to help them sort through their experience and the feelings and behaviors that have been influenced by the trauma. It is better to seek help and find out you are just experiencing normal behavior, than wait too long and have a real tragedy on your hands.
6. Find a parenting mentor. I am not a fan of constantly venting to peers about your child in a negative way, especially on public venues like Facebook. I have seen many children crushed because they accidentally heard what a parent was saying in frustration and thought it was how their parent always felt about them. Instead, find someone who had a great relationship with their children when they were teens and tweens. Make sure it is someone whose children are now faithful Christians as adults. You don’t want to follow that parent who was “popular” with their kids because they allowed the teens to drink a keg at their house. Instead you want a godly parent who knew how to balance love, godly correction and emotional support in healthy ways.
7. People think I am nuts, but we stumbled on a truth about tweens and teens very few will admit. If they can get 10-12 hours of sleep a night and are fed regularly-scheduled, healthy meals and snacks every few hours (to keep blood sugars level), behavior improves dramatically. (Our theory was confirmed by our Johns Hopkins trained pediatrician.) Your child will call you the meanest parent on the planet for an early bedtime, but it is worth the “fight” in the beginning. As they reach the latter teen years, it is okay to let them slide a little, especially on the weekends. It really isn’t healthy for anyone to go for long periods being sleep deprived. Recent studies are finding teens need almost as much sleep as an infant to be healthy and performing in their peak zone. Make sure your child is getting enough rest, even if it means cutting back on some activities. (Note: Helping your teen develop a strong work ethic is independent of making sure they are getting enough rest. If their bodies need ten to twelve hours of sleep, letting them get it is not encouraging them to be lazy as an adult.)
Try these ideas consistently for a few weeks and let me know what happens. Have things calmed down a bit? If you have a relatively calm tween or teen household, what other things have you found that helped your family? I would love for you to share with others so they can weather the tween years in a healthy, loving, godly way.