My 11-year-old daughter has been acting very sassy with me. She mimics things I say and rolls her eyes when I ask her to do something like put on a sweater. What can I do about her bad attitude?
In nearly every tween-friendly TV show, kids use a sassy tone when they reluctantly have to engage in conversation with mom or dad. We've been programmed to think it's funny; every time Mom looks aghast at her daughter after she delivers an inappropriate comment, the laugh track rolls. Although most tweens pass through an edgy phase as they move through adolescence, here's my advice on handling sassiness without fueling more power struggles:
• Don't make your daughter's behavior about you! If you take her fresh tone personally, you will lose your Alpha position in the family. As I often say, the worst four words to begin any request of a child are, "I need you to..." Avoid coming across as needing your daughter to speak politely or you'll simply make it more interesting for her to speak rudely as an act of rebellion.
• Arch your eyebrow. One of my favorite responses to a sassy child is what I refer to as, "The Look." Without a word, raise one eyebrow and look at her with wonder, as if to say you can't quite believe she just said what she did. Silence is golden, and is a vastly underused tool in a parent's repertoire of responses.
• Strengthen connection. Middle school is unbearable for many kids, prompting them to offload stress on those with whom they feel safest -- which is probably you. Despite all evidence to the contrary, your daughter needs you now more than ever. Reconnect. Cook with her. Take a dance class together. Let her know that that she can still lean on you without fearing long lectures or unwanted advice. Her sassy behavior may well be the offloading of anxiety, confusion and frustration as she moves into adolescence, making you her essential North Star, even if her behavior suggests otherwise.
• Clarify where the line is. Every family has its own way of communicating. In some, the tone is hushed and formal, while in others, no one gets heard unless they shout. More than the style of delivery, it's the feeling behind a communication that makes us feel safe or anxious, cared for or disrespected. Speak candidly with your daughter about what family means to you -- a place of love and safety where each member feels cared for and heard -- and use that discussion to establish what is and isn't allowed in her teen communications so she knows when she's crossing the line.
• Offer your daughter a "do-over" when she's spoken in a smart-alecky way. In a neutral tone, remind her of your expectations. "I want to hear you -- I really do. Would you like to try telling me what's bothering you in a way that makes it easier to listen?"
• Model respectful language and behavior. Our kids take their cues from what we do. No matter how much you talk about the importance of being polite, if you speak harshly with your spouse or children, they will get the message that it's OK to talk that way, too. Encourage everyone in your family to deal with conflict and share their opinions in ways that feel respectful and caring.
As the saying goes, This, too, shall pass. Establish guidelines for what is and isn't acceptable, stay connected and above all, don't take your daughter's behavior personally!
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