Helping an Angry Tween

Laura was 11, her younger brother, Aaron, was 8. Her family was going through a challenging economic period and there was plenty of stress at home.

Laura, like many oldest siblings, was particularly affected by her parent’s difficult circumstances. The pressures that come with being a tween didn’t help. With hormones surging, academic pressures increasing and friendships becoming more complicated Laura was often upset. On many days it seemed like she was eager to pick a fight whenever she was home, particularly with her Mom. (Many mothers and daughters ride an emotional roller coaster at this age).

Laura’s Mom, Rose, came to me for help. After talking we decided that Rose was going to try to pick her battles, cutting back on some of her frequent corrections of Laura. When she knew it was important to interrupt behavior she would do so calmly but firmly. All that Rose was juggling combined with Laura’s uncanny ability to “push her mother’s buttons” would make this task far from simple. We were cautiously optimistic that if Mom was even a little successful there would be less fighting and life at home would get a bit easier.

Rose did well and the results were worth the effort. Here is one particularly challenging moment when Rose was able to “turn vinegar into wine”.

On this particular day Laura came home from school obviously upset. Rose could tell that even the slightest annoyance could be blown up out of proportion.

When Laura walked into the kitchen Aaron was sitting at the kitchen table working on a birthday card for his mom. Unfortunately he had chosen to “borrow” without permission his sister’s favorite pen to complete the project. Harsh words were exchanged and pretty soon Laura had grabbed his creation, crumpled it up and stormed off to her room.

Rose took a deep breath and managed to keep herself from running after Laura. With every ounce of patience she could muster she slowly went up to Laura’s door and starting talking, “I know you’re upset and I understand why but you didn’t need to explode and ruin his card. I think you should probably apologize.” Her measured tones were sincere, clear and different than her usual array of “Laura, what are you doing?? You’re being ridiculous! I can’t believe you act like this!! Apologize to your brother now!!, etc.”

Then instead of engaging in the argument that often followed this kind of exchange, Rose left the room and busied herself elsewhere in the house giving her daughter time and space to sort things through.

When Rose returned to the kitchen a short time later she was shocked to find her two children working together on a birthday present for her; sharing some clay to do so.

Not all stories about angry tweens end this well but if parents can pick their battles, stay calm in the moment, offer clear and concise corrections when needed and give children time to find ways to cool down and resolve problems discord can lessen and everyone can experience a little more piece of mind.