10 Ways to Avoid Those Pre-Teen Meltdowns

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I have a not-quite-12-year-old daughter, and as anyone who's ever known a not-quite-12-year-old girl or been a not-quite-12-year-old girl knows, that means I have endless drama. I love my daughter to pieces, truly. She's a remarkable creature who is by turns insightful and childish, compassionate and passionate. And she is also Filled With The Drama: Everything is Very Tragic and Very Important and Life Or Death. All the time.

Coincidentally, as her mother, I am always either the most wondrous adult on the planet or the stupidest human ever to waste her time. Sadly, I'd say the split between these two states is about 20/80, right now. It's very difficult to be burdened with putting up with me, you know. What with my extreme stupidity about how important everything in her life is.

[Side note: People tell me that it gets worse before it gets better, but that someday the hormone rollercoaster will halt and she'll be a reasonable person, again. Is it true? I hope it's true.]

As you might imagine, the conflagration between her tragic life and my extreme idiocy makes for a lot of meltdowns. As a rookie mother I thought tantrums were just for toddlers, but that was because I didn't have a tween yet. Silly me! Now we call them "meltdowns," but you know I'm basically referring to the point at which my adolescent starts screaming and stomping and slamming doors.

My main goal in life, right now, is to circumvent these outbursts whenever possible. I don't always succeed, mind you, but here are ten strategies that sometimes work around here. (On alternate Thursdays, when the moon is full.)

1) Take a time out. I don't mean put your kid into time out, I mean you take a time out. I say, "Okay, I'm getting mad and I'm afraid I'm going to say something I shouldn't. I need to go be in time out for a little bit before we keep talking about this." And then I disengage immediately (usually by going to my room and closing the door). If she tries to follow me, I reiterate that I love her too much to use angry words, and I need the time to cool down. This not only gives us both time to cool down, it models the behavior I fervently hope she may someday use, herself.

2) Send her to time out. But don't call it that, please. That would be insulting. A simple, "You can go cool off in your room until you can conduct yourself courteously" may not head off the door slam, but at least it gets the meltdown out of your face for a little bit.

3) Crack a joke. This one doesn't always work, and sometimes it makes her angrier, but hope springs eternal. I find the best "defusing" jokes to be inside ones. Loudly exclaiming "Knock knock!" is only going to make her roll her eyes, but blurting out the punchline from the ongoing gag that had us all in stitches at dinner last night generally gets a smile.

4) Remind her you're on her side. Sometimes a quiet but firm, "I know this is important to you and I want to help you with it, but that's hard to do when you're yelling at me," is all it takes to reel her back in.

5) Pretend to go deaf. This is a little mean, I guess. And I'll be honest, in the minute or so it takes for her to realize what I'm doing, she gets really mad. But once she realizes I'm ignoring her and gets all worked up about it, eventually she falls silent. And that's my cue to say, "Oh, are you done yelling now? There was this ringing in my ears and I couldn't hear anything you said. Could you try again a little more quietly?"

6) Do active listening with gentle reminders. "I hear you saying that you don't think it's fair that you're not being allowed to go to this party. I'm happy to discuss that, and I'm sorry you're unhappy, but we can't have a conversation if you're just screaming. Do you want to talk about it or do you want to keep yelling and I'll just sit here?"

7) Sing. Show tunes, preferably. Listen, desperate times call for desperate measures. It's hard to keep yelling at your mother when she's belting out "Oklahoma!"

8) Grab her and dance. Again, if she's really angry, this may not work. But spinning your tween around the kitchen may result in giggles as you tell her that she seemed to be launching into quite the song and dance, so you figured you'd help out with the dance part.

9) Kill her with kindness. "I love you! I love you SO MUCH! Even though you're kind of being not very nice right now, I still want to give you a big kiss!" Make the kiss very sloppy. She'll probably still be mad, but it'll make you feel better, anyway.

10) Throw your own tantrum. This one must be used sparingly; truthfully, I don't know if it works more than once. But one well-placed, "And you never listen to me! You just don't care! I cook and I clean and I buy you Aeropostale clothing and I pack your lunch and all you ever do is yell at me!" will get her to stop, even if only due to the shock of it. And the look on her face will make it kind of fun, too.

Do you have other coping strategies for circumventing the tween meltdowns? I'd love some new ammo for my arsenal!

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir also blogs about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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