All too often, the tween and teen years are fraught with friend issues and peer drama. It can be exasperating as a parent to hear about the calamity and issues of the day. And probably, the chirping about these issues occurs while you are in the midst of navigating traffic, making dinner, getting kids ready for afternoon/evening activities, or any other number of things that occupy your time and attention. So I get it, it’s easy to say things that are standard, cliché answers. In other words – not helpful.
I can relate to well-meaning but less than helpful comments because… I’m married. For example, I come home and tell my husband a story about how all the moms were arguing at the PTA meeting, how I can’t even handle the stress of this and need to figure out a way to get away from this negativity. He barely waits for me to finish before he says (some of you know what’s coming…) “you should relax.” I stare blankly for a moment, and then say “uh huh, okay, well thanks for weighing in.” Now I certainly did not relax, but it did serve the purpose of distracting me from my issue because I forget about the PTA for a moment while I walk away (eyes rolling) wondering how he can possibly do so well at his job if this is the best response he can come up with. So yes, I’m sure we can all relate to less than helpful replies at any age. And it’s no different with our kids, if we give them stock answers, they won’t keep asking for our help. Here are the top five replies to remove from your repertoire:
Don’t let that bother you. Of course! Why didn’t she just think of that! No one can just flip a switch and decide to not be bothered by something. How about asking “why does that bother you” which will actually let her explain her thoughts and feelings behind whatever is going on. You will likely learn something about your daughter, and by venting and talking through it, she is likely to start feeling better without having solved the problem yet.
You need to do x, y, and z. When our daughters are telling us about a problem they are having, it is so tempting to jump in with a solution. We can see so clearly how to fix this! But that isn’t why she’s telling you about it, and this won’t help her develop the skills to problem-solve for herself. First and foremost, reflect back that you hear her and that you can imagine how mad/sad/frustrated this situation makes her. Beyond that, ask her what (if anything) she has thought about doing to remedy the situation. Ask about her options and help her figure out the best one. When our kids were little, we were more like managers (share that toy, don’t put that in the toilet, get that out of your mouth); now that they are tweens, we need to start thinking of ourselves more like consultants.
You know what I would do? This is essentially the cousin of ‘you need to do x, y, and z’ with the added feature of making it about you. Now I will admit that I have been thrilled on several occasions when my daughter has asked me if something happening to her has ever happened to me, and/or what I think she should do. So yes, I acknowledge that kids do sometimes ask us for input – especially girls. But try to avoid coming out of the gate with this. Becoming like me is a bad idea for her anyway – sarcasm is my go-to defense, and I hope she learns to be more direct. Plus she is actually much nicer than me, so most of what I would do wouldn’t fit her personality! Perhaps because of this, if she asks me what I would do, I generally give an answer based on what I know of her personality and experience, not mine. This could likely be the reason she asks me what I think.
Who cares what she/he/they said? Your daughter comes home and tells you for the fifth time in a month what mean thing Ashley has said to her. You are so over Ashley, and already know that she is doing her best to earn the title of mean girl. It’s only natural that you want your daughter to attach as little meaning to Ashley as you do. But guess what? She does care what Ashley says – or at least cares that she is saying it. She may fully understand that Ashley is behaving unkindly and may know that the mean things Ashley says are untrue. But tweens and teens are keenly aware of what their peers think of them, and the thought of being an outcast based on the influence of others can bring up some real anxiety. So if she cares, you need to as well. Using the same advice about listening and ‘consulting’ mentioned above will serve this purpose. (See how efficient this is!)
Get over it. Last year, my daughter met a new friend named Sarah at the beginning of the school year. It was only about a month in when their problems began. Sarah made some poor behavior choices (bad move) and my daughter repeated some not so nice things about her (also a bad move – see, I can admit my kid isn’t perfect!). So their friendship fell apart, and the year went on. Even as the school year was coming to an end, Sarah was still glaring at my daughter and even flipped her off a time or two. I really wanted to explain to Sarah that this anger period had now lasted seven or eight times longer than the actual friendship period (see, sarcasm).
I wondered if Sarah couldn’t let this go because she had no one at home helping her process the negative experience of this friendship loss, or if there actually was someone at home who she talked to that was saying “just get over it” – directly or indirectly. I’m sure you know people, or maybe you are people, who sometimes just can’t seem to get off the hamster wheel when something happens. People have widely varying ways of processing events, and some just need more time to work it out. My daughter likes to talk things out, and then she’s done. I tend to need to talk things out with a few different people, maybe write about it, take a walk, and then I’m okay. The point here is that something may seem over and done to you, but your daughter isn’t quite done processing it. Telling her to get over it (even in a nicer form) is akin to telling her that her feelings aren’t okay and that she is being unreasonable. Encourage her to find different ways to process her feelings – drawing, journaling, exercising, and talking to discourage unhealthy ruminating but to allow her to work through things.
I believe that as parents, we are all doing the best we can. And whether because of us or in spite of us, most kids turn out just fine. I love pointing out minor tweaks such as responses to our daughters, because they are small and manageable as opposed to colossal projects. Just the same, these small changes can make a huge difference in your daughter’s ability to navigate these daunting years well as strengthening her relationship with you.