My main problem is that my sweet 12 year old boy is gradually turning into a less that respectful back talking child. He never used to be this way! He is a pretty happy well adjusted kid. He does very well at school and has many nice friends, so I am not sure where he is getting this from. Yesterday my son said to me “Stop yelling at me with your eyes!” I guess he sees right through to my frustration with him! To top it off, I also have an 8 year old son who copies his brother’s every move. Can you help me to curb my son’s bad attitude and unkind ways?

—Mom Who Wants her Sweet Child Back

Dear Mom Who wants Her Sweet Child Back,

Well Thank Goodness he is still that happy, well adjusted kid inside there! Children, no matter what their age learn their social behavior, not from the group they find themselves in BUT FROM HOW THEIR PARENTS TREAT EACH OTHER. So the first step is to look at how you adults have treated each other, own up to it and fix the parts that need it. Then apologize to your son for setting a bad example and ask for another try.

Secondly look at your relationship with your son. Back talk and bad attitudes are often a response to the parent being over protective or demanding. Try letting him have the last word. Invite cooperation by asking what needs to be done, instead of you telling him what needs to happen.

Explore what is happening for him emotionally by having friendly chats at neutral times. Open the discussion with “Could it be ___?” questions. For example ask, “Could it be that you are angry with me because I try to boss you around?” or “Could it be that you are frustrated with me because I am disappointed in you allot of the time?” Try to re-establish the trust and bond between you.

Children at the age of 12 and 13 recycle the stage they went through around 3 years of age. In order to separate from you the parent, they begin to assert themselves. Part of this assertion comes in the roll of breaking family rules, it’s all part of the developmental cycle they are in. They argue, hassle and disagree. They make mistakes in order to find out what works while they develop their own sense of being. They literally need to break out of the relationships that have helped them grow to this point and reestablish them from an independent position. Sound Familiar?

The key is going to be to back off and let him have the space he needs to discover himself AND to establish a new and different relationship with the person he is becoming while continuing to love and support him when he comes back to the nest for reassurance and connection, which at this age will happen frequently.

In a nut shell: Make sure the message of love gets through. Become a sounding board rather than an authority figure. Work through your own frustrations in a supportive setting away from him. Clean up your own agendas and methods in your relationships. Read Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline for Teenagers. Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride, this too will pass.