How to Recognise the One Thing That Will Make Your Child A Terrible Teen

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Preparing your kids to be responsible, sensible teens requires a bunch of things – many of them overlapping with things I talked about last time in staying connected with your teen.

This week we’re going to look at the one thing that has the biggest impact on what kind of teen you will raise.   

Here it is:

Self.

What is self?

Self is that thing that rises up when your child’s will is crossed. The “I don’t want to”. The crying when they don’t get what they want, the arching of the back when you try and put them in their car seat, the throwing of a tantrum. 

Recently I sat in the dentist’s waiting room and watched a spectacular display of self out of control.

Miss Toddler’s mother sat filling in the form for new patients while Miss Toddler stood next to her demanding her attention.

When she didn’t get it, Miss Toddler began complaining loudly. When her mother told her to be quiet Miss Toddler tried to hit her. Repeatedly.

Mom threatened to spank Miss Toddler, but she continued shouting at her mother. An aunt or helper who was with them sat on the same couch shaking her head and laughing at the child.

Mom got up to stand at the counter so she could fill in her form undisturbed. Miss Toddler followed her, stamping her feet and yelling.

Clutching her mother’s legs and crying, Miss Toddler tried to bite her mother’s bottom. Alas, Mom’s jacket was in the way so Miss Toddler tried to lift it to get better access for biting, but Mom put her hand down to stop her.

With her efforts at taking a chunk out of her mother’s backside thwarted, Miss Toddler threw a screaming fit. Mom picked her up and tried to comfort her. No go. They sat down on the couch again, still with the incomplete form. And little Miss Toddler continued shouting and crying and hitting.

The ladies at reception brought over a colouring book and pencils for Miss Toddler. She grabbed the pencils and began to colour, all the while snatching the pencils back from Aunty if she dared to touch them, shouting at her mother, and generally letting the world know that she was in charge and miserable.  

At last it was Mom’s turn to see the dentist. Aunty picked up the child as Mom walked away with the dental assistant.

And All. Hell. Broke. Loose.

If I thought the yelling was bad before, now I was treated to a sensational display of temper and self-will that had me wishing for a pair of earplugs and a large wooden spoon. (I do believe in spanking – the right way. Read about it here.)

The dental assistant hastily told Aunty to bring Miss Toddler along to the dentist’s room.

An uneasy peace settled on the waiting room. Those of us left sat in suspense – and sure enough the peace was pierced by intermittent shouts and crying from down the hallway.

Miss Toddler was demanding and commanding, reminding everyone who was in charge, and the adults were pandering and pampering, trying to appease a self-will that was out of control.   

What does this story have to do with preparing children for their teens?

Everything.

Although it appears so, children don’t reach adolescence and rocket into rebellion. There is a slow build-up, a day by day, year by year movement in that direction.

A general rule is that what you have at age 2 and 3 is what you will have at age 12, 13, and older. Only worse.

This mom is going to fight battles for years to come and by the time Miss Toddler reaches adolescence Mom will either have given up on her and turn a blind eye or they will be fighting World War lll.

What should this mom have done in the dentist’s rooms?

To be honest, her work wasn’t in the dentist’s room. It was at home.

Miss Toddler should have been disciplined and trained at home. She should have been trained at home to be submitted to mommy, to have self subdued.

Self was raging in this child still in Pampers. She was getting what she wanted, but she was miserable.

Miss Toddler’s story is a perfect illustration of self out of control, but what does it look like when self is subdued?

Let’s rewrite the story.

Mom, Aunty, and Miss Toddler are at the dentist’s rooms. Mom is filling in her form while Miss Toddler stands by her side. She gets bored so tries to get Mom’s attention. Mom tells her to wait while she fills in the form, digs in her bag for a toy she brought along, and Miss Toddler plays contentedly with it while Mom fills in her form.

The dentist calls Mom and she explains to Miss Toddler that she will be back soon and that she should stay with Aunty for a short bit. Miss Toddler whimpers and starts to cry but Mommy reassures her and Aunty distracts her with a book. Peace reigns.

The end.

No crying, yelling, screaming, hitting, or biting. No pandering by the adults. No wishing for earplugs by the rest of us in the waiting room.

Is Miss Toddler a brat? Yes. Is it her fault? No.

She is the product of her training.  

Miss toddler has not been trained at all. Self has been allowed to rule from the start and the results are not pretty.

How does self begin to show itself? In small ways, usually by body language and even before a child can express themselves verbally.

Here are some of the small signs of self that is unsubdued:

  • stiffening of the arms or legs, clenching fists, walking away from you stiff-legged
  • undoing an action you have done
  • sliding off your lap when you want to hold them
  • arching, fighting, squirming,
  • hitting, biting, pushing you away,
  • running away from you
  • a little toss of the head
  • hitting the air in your direction
  • mild crying and verbal protesting

Body language reveals what is going on in the heart. Don’t tolerate the small signs of self because they are small.

Self is self no matter the size, and, left unsubdued, it will grow as your child grows and strengthen as your child strengthens.

Don’t wait for a grand tantrum before you begin to work on subduing self in your child. Learn to recognise the small signs and nip them in the bud.

Also, don’t think that because your child does not have a strong will that he or she does not have self. A mild tempered child will still have self that needs to be brought under control.

For more on this read my post on tantrums.

Are you ignoring the small signs of self in your child? What are some that you have seen in your child?

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is a certified SYMBIS facilitator, and is certified in TPM (Transformation Prayer Minsitry). She lives in South Africa, has three grown children, and is married to her best friend – Richard.

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