Let’s face it, middle-schoolers can be mean. It’s a natural result of an increasing desire for independence, chronic deficits in self-esteem, an under-developed capacity for empathy and compassion and raging hormones. Add all of these up and the result can be just plain nasty!
I am fortunate enough to have two such hormone rangers in my home at this moment, and sometimes it’s tough. When they point their jabs at each other, I can put on my headphones or send them to another room and go about my business. But when they aren’t at each other’s throats, I’m the next likely target.
As a mom, it’s difficult to get mad at them for being unkind because I remember being 12 or 13, I know that it really isn’t about me and isn’t their fault, and sometimes my kids are still really sweet and cute. These are my babies we’re talking about! Still, it feels self-defeating and yucky to be at the receiving end of all the unpleasantness.
So what is a mom to do?
The reality is that even if it isn’t their fault, and they aren’t doing it on purpose, we don’t deserve to be bullied by our kids. Most of us do enough of that to ourselves. (Check out Elaine’s blog about self-bullying for TouchstoneCoaching.com) Here are a few ideas that might help:
- Have compassion: Most of us remember what it was like and can identify completely. My brother’s description of me from age 11 – 13 is, “stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp, slam!” When you can understand and have compassion for what your child is going through, it is often enough to overlook the “small stuff.” (See this coaching tip.)
- Self-care: Keeping yourself healthy and positive can make for a strong shield against barbs and jabs that are thrown your direction. Again, this can be enough to get you through much unpleasantness.
- Be Strategic: This is about being savvy about the battles you join. For example, my daughter is very big on not having her privacy invaded – her room is her sanctuary and she wants the rest of us to respect that. I’ve chosen to enforce a similar boundary, not so much because I feel strongly about my room and privacy, but because it is a boundary that she can more easily relate to and appreciate. Find something that is important to them, and turn it into a support for you. If they don’t like it when you raise your voice, make calm voices a house rule.
- Don’t Take the Bait: This is another perspective on picking your battles. You do not have to participate in every argument you are invited to join.
- Get Space: There are times that I am easily able to keep my cool when my kids go to war, and there are others when my natural tendency is to jump in and fight. It’s not appropriate and it’s not fair (after all, I am bigger and more clever ;). In these moments, I need to find a way to get some space, take a time out, and make sure that I am responding in a conscious and supportive way.
- Be Direct: Let them know that it is inappropriate when they lash out at you in a hurtful way. Your feelings are valid, and your kids are old enough to learn about empathy. Establish a house policy around kindness and hold everyone to it. Find a way to handle the situation in the moment (logic and reason may not work with intense emotion) and then create a space to debrief later. For example, if your child is saying something hurtful and lashing out, perhaps you simply say, “ouch.” Indicate that you are not going to stay and be attacked, and walk out of the room. Later, when things have calmed down, have the conversation about how it felt for you. Encourage empathy, expect apology, set them up for handling the situation in a different way in the future. What are “safe” ways to be mad?
- Get Help: Sometimes we need to call in the big guns and play one of those “don’t mess with me” cards. There is nothing wrong with asking another adult to come into the situation and facilitate, or in some cases, put their foot down and state the obvious when what is happening is just not OK! I remember distinctly being reprimanded as a pre-teen by my Dad for being mean to my Mom. In our house, it was an action with strict consequences.
Through all of this, find a way to take care of yourself. Even though it is a normal part of a child’s developmental process, it can be managed, and you deserve to stay supported and safe. After all, you need to be ready when they ask to start driving the car in a few years!