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Mother’s dilemma

Mother’s dilemma
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First Published: Sat, Mar 20 2010. 01 15 AM IST

Testing times: Be firm but gentle with your backchatting teenager.
Testing times: Be firm but gentle with your backchatting teenager.
Updated: Sat, Apr 10 2010. 12 24 AM IST
My 14-year-old daughter is at times subtly rude to me, and even her grandparents. Either it is backchat or eye rolling or muttering “whatever”. She is not an overall angry or maladjusted girl, but she is doing this quite often now. She gives me a stand-offish or a ridiculing reply when a simple yes, no or okay would suffice. She makes me feel as if I am being stupid.
Backchat and eye rolling are horribly shocking to encounter in your children, especially when you are at the receiving end. Part of it comes naturally as a form of rebellion and of asserting their own “grown-up” right to respond with sarcasm; but part of it is learnt and comes from watching teenagers on TV. While you can let some of it slide, don’t let her get away with it too often. Since coming down severely on this kind of behaviour will possibly only get you more “whatevers” and “rolling eyes”, I would suggest four possible strategies:
• Shut down on her when she behaves likes this. Simply don’t communicate, leave the room and do something else. For all that hard-nosed cynicism she is displaying, most children can’t take silence.
• The other thing to do is to say laughingly, “Oh you’re in that kind of mood.” This way, you communicate that it is some strange impulse or motive on her part, and not “dumb” behaviour on your part that prompts her to behave this way. Make her rude talk and expressions sound like silly behaviour and she may stop. Warning: She may get even more incensed for a while, but may ultimately stop it.
• The third option is to talk to her, explaining that you are hurt by her behaviour and that some of the issues she is biting your head off for are just social and family niceties. Remember not to whine and plead with her.
Testing times: Be firm but gentle with your backchatting teenager.
Let her know that you will all stop speaking to her about these if she is incapable of receiving them in the way they are meant.
For instance, one teenager always came up with snappy, nasty replies if she was asked nurturing questions such as “Did you sleep well?” or “Ready for dinner?” The replies would be on the lines of: “No, I’m a raging insomniac” or “Do I have a choice?” Her parents told her that until she “understood” such conversations and their emotional content, they wouldn’t talk to her about it at all.
• The fourth strategy is to sometimes laugh with your child and say something such as, “Ok, that was smart and funny, but it was incredibly rude.” After this, expect a reply to your original question or an apology (on a good day). You may find that this strategy works best because it acknowledges the wordplay, but rejects the rude sentiment attached to it.
Teenagers also derive a certain enjoyment out of using language in an effective (albeit nasty) fashion. Sarcasm, believe it or not, reflects a child’s growing mental capabilities! Making snide comments lets them feel grown-up.
Some people find it just easier to put up with backchat from teenagers and expect grandparents and other adults at the receiving end to put up with it too. That’s not a good idea. It’s best to understand where they’re coming from when they use snubbing, sneering language, but use a range of responses to get them to tone it down and stop it.
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Before stating my problem, I have to admit I am short-tempered. This has a direct bearing on how I deal with my daughter, who’s three and a half. She’s sweet, but can be quite adamant about what she wants. I try not to get angry and make her see some logic or reasoning, but she just will not listen. Eventually, I have to threaten her or slap her before she’ll do what I want her to do. I get so tired by all this that I do not have the energy to do anything else. I must emphasize that my daughter is not a fussy eater or bad-mannered—just adamant. Please help me deal with the situation.
First, with a three-year-old, you have to choose your battles. There is only this much logic and reasoning that she can absorb. If you say that mealtimes and overall behaviour are not an issue, then believe me, you must, simply must, count your blessings on this.
If the child is generally well-behaved and a good eater, short temper, slapping and other such parent meltdowns usually happen when you have set expectations of outcomes. When situations deviate from them, you blow your fuse. With a three-year-old (a child of any age, for that matter), it is pointless, and ultimately destructive to have a set outcome in mind and set both of you too many “tasks”.
It’s best to cut yourself and your child some slack and enjoy her growing up in a more relaxed manner. However, this doesn’t mean that you let her have her own way in all matters. As I said, pick your battles. Do this during peacetime, when you are calm and not in the middle of some issue with her.
I would suggest that you think of eight issues which invariably put you and her at loggerheads and end with you losing your temper.
Then think why it is so important that something is done the way you want—or done at all. You may find that at least four of these eight are important and non-negotiable; the other four you can afford to let slide. For instance, unsafe behaviour, like wanting to use a knife or scissors at this age, or refusing to hold your hand while crossing the road or getting into a lift, is something you cannot allow. But her insistence on choosing clothes to wear is something you can allow her.
This exercise will help you understand whether you tend to take issues too seriously and imagine all kinds of dire consequences if they don’t get done or learnt the way you want. It’s best that you handle your temper issues effectively, else your daughter will mirror this behaviour and not learn how issues can be resolved amicably.
Gouri Dange is the author ofThe ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Mar 20 2010. 01 15 AM IST