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Parenting Tips: Parenting a Teen vs. Parenting A Toddler

Apparently there is this sweet spot between being a toddler and being a teen where kids listen to their parents, play by themselves but also seek out closeness and connection with their caregivers. During the middle years, I think parents start to forget how they survived those toddler years, then suddenly it feels like their teen has turned into this raging, hormonal, stranger who wants nothing to do with them. But what if they were able to think back to what it was like raising a toddler? What if the toddler stage is just preparation for the teenage stage? (Luckily for parents, teenagers have better verbal skills and a much more developed brain than their toddler had).

Let’s take a look at how raising toddlers actually helps prep us for raising a teenager, shall we?

1. Toddlers Are Argumentative/Oppositional

Remember when your toddler learned to say “NO”, and “you can’t make me?” Well that oppositional brain is back! Your teen is now learning that maybe you can’t actually MAKE them do what you want anymore (like dragging a 130 pound kid to school when they don’t want to go).

So, instead of engaging in repetitive and frustrating arguments, anticipate the times when the arguments may occur and be prepared. For example, if you know your child does not like being told NO then be prepared to state your case, clearly set your boundary, and walk away from the conversation without allowing time and space for rebuttal.

For example: If your child asks for something they are not allowed to have, clearly explain why you have said no, that it is not up for discussion, and exit the space while providing a good excuse for exiting. “You may not have an extra hour of TV tonight because you have to get up early in the morning. It is not up for discussion. Now I have to finish the laundry.”

But remember, it’s also important to be flexible and hear your child out when they ask for something. Make sure that when you say NO you mean it and that there is a really good reason why you are saying NO. If you waiver because you haven’t taken the time to really think it through, your child will learn that when you say NO you may not have a really good reason. That can lead to frequent arguments because either a) you are likely to change your mind if they argue since you don’t have a leg to stand on or b) you truly are being unfair/unkind. This is a good opportunity to use the words “maybe” or “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”

2. Toddlers Crave Independence

“Me do it!” Remember those days when your toddler wanted to do everything on their own and you struggled not to interfere when you saw they were “doing it wrong”? Well, the same goes for your teenager. Teens need the opportunity to try things on their own, to make a mistake, and learn from it. This teaches them that there is no such thing as failure, and that they can just keep trying until they get it right. It builds self-esteem and self-confidence.

So, the next time your child asks for some independence (for example staying out later at night, keeping their door closed, etc.) have a clear discussion with them about boundaries and privileges. Explain that you’re willing to afford them the opportunity to demonstrate their maturity and ability to make good decisions but if they are unable to continually show you they deserve the privilege the privilege will be taken away and must be earned back.

Suggested Parent Homework: Talk with your teen about a privilege they would like to earn, come up with a plan on what they need to do to earn it and how you will support them along the way. Discuss how many mistakes they are allowed to make until the privilege is taken away (3 strikes you’re out?). Remember, taking away a privilege after the first mistake is not how people learn, we all make mistakes when we are still learning so allow space for mistakes and reconciliation to occur.

3. Toddlers Have A Hard Time Going To Bed

Remember when your kiddo came up with every excuse imaginable as to why they couldn’t go to sleep? How suddenly they were hungry, thirsty, or needed their blanket placed ever-so-perfectly over their tiny bodies? And now, your teenager refuses to put their phone away, turn off their electronics and go to sleep.

First of all, it’s important to note that once puberty hits teenagers’ biological clock shifts 2 hours. So if your child went to bed around 8pm happily then your teeanger is likely to feel tired around 10pm instead.

Secondly, boundaries are key here. Just like you did with your toddler, make it known what the rules are and support your child in a bedtime routine. Do you know what your teenager’s bed time routine looks like? Do they even have one? Helping them set this up, including timelines for each task, will help your child wind-down at night and be prepared to fall asleep around the same time every evening. It’s our job as parents to remove distractions for our child during bedtime routines because their brain still isn’t mature enough to do it on their own.

Suggested Parent Homework: Sit with your teen and write out their bed time routine with them including times. Example: 9pm internet shut off, 9:30pm hygiene routine completed, 9:50pm in bed ready to sleep, 10pm, lights out.

4. Toddlers Need Love And Acceptance

Remember how much your toddler wanted to snuggle, give hugs and to just be close to you? Believe it or not, your teenager wants closeness just as much, but in a different way.

Yes, your teen may now sit on the far side of the couch on purpose, or shy away from any attempt at a hug or kiss, but it doesn’t mean they don’t still crave closeness. However, with age, they need you to connect with them in a new way. In my 10 years of working with teenagers, I’ll tell you a secret: all they want is to feel loved, accepted and heard by you. As parents we so easily say things like “Oh you’re too young to know…” or “that’s just your hormones”, and when we say things like that it translates to “I don’t believe what you’re telling me and your experience isn’t valid”. That is what pushes teenagers away from their parents. They need to know that their feelings are acknowledged.

And let’s be honest, maybe what you’ve said is true, but it doesn’t bring your child closer, it pushes them farther away. So instead, try an empathetic response like: “You’re really heartbroken over this breakup” or “you’re really serious about being an actor aren’t you” instead of shutting down what your child is telling you is going on for them. The more your child feels invalidated by your comments the less likely they are to share with you their thoughts, feelings, dreams and struggles and they will drift farther and farther away.

5. Toddlers Need Adult Guidance

And finally, just like your toddler, your teenager needs your guidance. They need you to set boundaries for them, and teach them how to set boundaries with themselves and with others. They need to learn that it is okay not to be everything to everybody, and that it’s healthy to say “No”.

As parents, we need to teach our children what limits are and how to set them. We also need to teach them how to fix things when they push a boundary and how to acknowledge to others when their boundaries have been crossed.

Suggested Parent Homework: Sit with your teen and write a list of your boundaries and have them write a list of theirs. Then discuss the following:

  • How do you share your boundaries with others?

  • What will you do if your boundary is crossed?

  • Which boundaries can someone cross and make up for and which boundaries would you end a friendship/relationship over?

Just remember, your teen doesn’t always know why they act the way they do and they still need our support, unconditional love and acceptance to guide them. No matter what they say, your teen cares what you think and how you treat them, so do your best to find patience, calmness and empathy during these trying years.

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