Parenting Pre-adolescents

mom with young girl

It's important to understand the many needs felt by children on the long road to adulthood:

  • The need to preserve life and health.
  • The need to assert themselves.
  • The need to feel safe.
  • The need for independence.
  • The need to feel pride in accomplishment.
  • The need to be loved.

The use of physical force as punishment crashes destructively onto all of these needs, greatly upsetting the child's world. It confirms his own weakness, the fears for his safety, and the unreality of his yearning for independence. He is torn by the love-hate actions of the adult, who is supposed to be his protector. The result can be confusion, instability, loss of self-confidence, distrust and fear of adults and authority. Perhaps worst of all is the lesson learned that "might makes right," that physical force is an acceptable means of teaching children and settling disagreements. Later the child is more likely to harshly discipline or physically or verbally abuse his own children, perpetuating the cycle of violence.

If no hitting or yelling, then what do we as parents do? We can try to keep calm and control our emotions. We can look to understand the reason for the bad behavior and explain why the behavior is unacceptable. We can discuss changes in behavior and, if justified, discipline appropriately without using physical force. We can try to make our child an understanding participant in the process of improving her behavior.

The above information is an excerpt from "Parenting Through All the Ages and Stages" (2000), a Massachusetts Citizens for Children publication.

Some Tips for Parenting School-age Children
from the Center for Effective Discipline

Focus on DO rather than DON'T.
Children need to know what is expected of them. Keep instructions simple. Only saying what not to do doesn't give children a clear idea of what you expect. Example: Say "Please hang up your coat," rather than "Don't throw your coat on the floor."

Be kind but firm.
Children often turn off repeated requests or nagging. Make eye contact, get down to your child's level, touch him gently, and give a short firm instruction, such as "I want you to go to bed now."

Be consistent.
A child will be more respectful when adults follow through on agreements or rules. If a child believes you don't mean what you say, or that you might change your mind if she pushes you enough, she will certainly act accordingly. Once you have told her, for example, that she cannot have candy when she gets to the grocery store, you must follow through. If she begs and pleads, and you give in and say, "ok, just one piece," she will remember that and try again next time. If you don't give in, she will increasingly be less likely to ask or plead.

Use reasoning and problem solving.
Reasoning with the child and having the child help develop a solution often makes the outcome successful. If your child's room is a mess, sit down with him, explain your concern and develop a room-cleaning contract, for example. After a while it becomes a routine. Do not nag about it.

Use routines.
Routines help a family run more smoothly and prevent discipline problems. For example, have a usual time for bedtime, meals, waking up, doing chores, and homework. Negotiating daily on times to fit everyone's needs and wishes makes life more difficult for everyone.

Have a few simple rules
Children feel more secure when they know what is expected. Parents can be more consistent when they have thought out what they want to happen, and children will be better able to meet expectations. Have a consequence for not following the rule. Avoid having no rules, having too many rules, or having children guess or negotiate rules on a daily basis. Some examples: No fighting. Be kind and respectful. No sassing or whining.

Give children choices.
Children will grow in responsibility as they are given the opportunity to make choices, and as they mature. Let them make choices beginning at a young age and increase choices as they grow. For example, rather than choosing her outfits for her, let her pick out what she wants to wear.

Use consequences.
Natural and logical consequences allow children to learn through their own actions or for their failures to act. An example of a natural consequence: A child consistently wants to spend his allowance the first day he gets it and then asks for more. Letting him live with the problem of not having money left is likely to make him a better planner. An example of a logical consequence: A child wrecks his brother's toy. In this case the adult often must step in. The child and adult might plan how to right the problem such as having the child buy a new toy for his brother with his allowance.

Do NOT use physical punishment.
Physical punishment, such as hitting, slapping, pinching, pushing, or spanking, teaches that "might makes right." It is ineffective because it doesn't teach children what to do instead. Children obey out of fear and become alienated from parents who hit. Children who hit often grow up to hit their own children and their spouses. It is wrong to hit children just as it is wrong to hit adults. Other discipline methods are safer more effective.

Some Resources & Links:

Parents Helping Parents offers free and ongoing self-help groups to support families and prevent child abuse. Groups meet throughout Massachusetts and are open to all parents. Also runs a 9AM-5PM hotline for parents 1-800-882-1250.

Some parenting tips from Circle of Parents

Learn about effective discipline, without corporal punishment & spanking, and why spanking doesn't work, at the Center for Effective Discipline web site,

Safety Tips & Resources from the National SAFE KIDS Campaign.

Family Concerns: The Parenting Resources for the 21st Century online guide is an initiative of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (the Council)

Resources for parents from Parents Place, a project designed to give parents and families a chance to learn more about raising and educating their children. Includes articles and lists of links.

Talk With Tour Kids Tips for discussing difficult topics with your children - talking to your kids about sex, HIV & AIDS, drugs, alcohol, and violence

Families First promotes the secure and nurturing parent-child relationships that are the foundation of every child’s well-being and future success.