Adopting Teens: Correcting Rude Behavior While Maintaining Connections

How do we balance discipline?

Jennifer Galan June 19, 2017
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I was talking with my therapist the other day and she told me, “Don’t worry; ages eleven through fourteen are a nightmare for all parents.” Turns out, as our kids creep up from tween into teen they turn off their brain more and push back against us. Also they don’t think we are cool even a little. So how do we find balance when we discipline—especially in our kids from hard places like foster care? How do we teach them boundaries without instilling shame?

Keep the limits. The teen years, especially, find our kids trying to put as many toes over the line as they can, without being technically out of bounds. When we keep our limits stable and constant they actually feel much safer than if we abolish boundaries completely. Make sure they know the limits, discuss (as much as they will let you because—remember, you’re not cool) why and what is acceptable, and hold to natural consequences.

Don’t personalize bad behavior. Every kid makes a mistake. Our kids with hard backgrounds have brains that work overtime telling them that they are the mistake. Don’t make the misbehavior about you or them, keep the focus on their actions; for example, your teen isn’t a smart-mouth, he is choosing to respond sarcastically or rudely.

Continue being playful. Remember how uncool you are? USE IT. Being playful and joking is a great way to diffuse anger on both sides.

Respond with warmth. You know that there are some actions and topics that are going to get heated. Decide ahead of time to respond with warmth and kindness. This is really hard to do—be prepared to have to excuse yourself from the conversation when you feel anger rising—but can make a huge difference in your teen’s attitude.

Negotiate when appropriate. As our kids age, it is totally fine to re-negotiate some long-standing rules (curfew, for one.) As you see your kid becoming more comfortable with school or free time or limits, encourage them to talk about why you have chosen the rules and boundaries in your home. If they feel like they are being treated unfairly, consider allowing them to respectfully negotiate and try out new responsibilities. One caveat: remember that you have the ultimate say, so don’t give in to something that feels unsafe.

Force togetherness (for a little bit). Your kid loves you and needs one-on-one time with you, even when they are specifically telling you to get lost. If you don’t have a tradition of one-on-one time (we call it “date night”) consider starting it now. It doesn’t have to be grand and fancy—sometimes it’s just a 30 minute walk to the corner store to get ice cream together but it gives them a chance to be alone with you, and you with them.

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Jennifer Galan

Jennifer Galan mothers four kids (one adopted, three biological) all while living the nomadic life of a military wife. She is a strong advocate for open adoptions, education reform, feminism, kindness, and naps. Mostly naps. Her favorite Doctor is number ten, and she is a proud Ravenclaw.


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