ASK EMORY • BY EMORY LUCE BALDWIN
My daughter is 11, and she is a really good kid. But she isn’t perfect of course: she doesn’t always pick up after herself; she says she’ll do something, then forgets; or she’ll sometimes say things that are thoughtless and rude.
I’m not a yeller, and I try not to give her a hard time about her mistakes. I just show her what she did wrong and tell her she should do better. And lately, that’s when the real trouble begins.
When I remind her to do something, or express my annoyance: she looks hurt, she gets mad, and sometimes she cries. For instance, I might ask her—for the third time—to put her dishes in the dishwasher. “I can never do anything right!” she wails, or “All you do is criticize me!”
What am I supposed to do about my thin-skinned girl? I don’t want to hurt her feelings or her self-confidence, but I also don’t want to be quiet and try not to upset her for the next 6 years.
Tiptoeing on Tulip
Ah, the 11 year-old, they can be so exquisitely sensitive. I’m sure this is confusing for you both. Your daughter’s early adolescent growth spurt makes her look more like a young teen and less like a little child. You’re probably expecting more maturity from her now, and she probably expects more from herself, as well.
That adds up to a lot more pressure to grow up, which may be why your daughter is crying, “Stop bugging me!” when you point out her mistakes. And I’m sure she makes a lot of mistakes. Most teens are careless, forgetful, and inconsiderate, at least some of the time.
So, of course you want to be able to talk to your daughter about day-to-day problems, Tiptoe. She needs you to hold her accountable as she continues to learn personal responsibility and consideration for others. She also needs your help to bolster her self-confidence when it feels shaky. Her complaints to you reflect what she is feeling inside: “No matter what I do, it’s never enough. I’m always making mistakes. I’m always getting criticized. I’m not good-enough.”
In the hustle bustle of daily life, family members can become pretty brusque with each other—not to be rude, but because we are in a hurry. We parents say things to children we would never say to other adults (What’s the matter with you? Get going! What were you thinking?) because it would be rude.
Making the effort to speak more courteously to your daughter will help smooth her ruffled feathers and encourage her to respond in kind. It would be courteous to thank your daughter for even the small things she remembers and does well, for example. One reason she is overly sensitive to your corrections is because she hungers for your approval. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and most families could do better with this.
It is also possible to speak more courteously to your daughter when calling attention to her problems or mistakes. Your extra-respectful language will encourage her to really listen to what you have to say, and your courteous tone will prompt her to respond more respectfully to you, too.
• Instead of, “Your stuff is all over the living room, go pick it up now…” try asking, “I’m sure you don’t like me nagging you to put your stuff away. I don’t like it either. Would you be willing to work together with me to figure out a way to deal with this problem?”
• Instead of, “You forgot again! Go back and do what you are supposed to do…” try, “I’m checking in with you about this job you said you were going to do. I don’t want to pester you about this, of course. So, would you be willing to let me know when you expect to have it done? Is there some other way you’d like to be reminded when you forget something?”
• Instead of, “That was rude and inconsiderate, you know better…” try: “I know from experience that you have a kind heart. So, I’m surprised by what you just said. Would you like to know why it bothered me?”
I recognize that for a parent to show this much courtesy to an 11-year-old may seem exaggerated or over the top, Tiptoe. But I promise you that your daughter will love it! When you make the effort to speak to her more the way you would talk to a friend, not a child, you will reassure her that you see her as a capable and caring young person. Your courtesy will demonstrate to her that—even though she makes mistakes—she is still worthy of being treated with respect.