Parenting tweens and teens can give you whiplash if you’re not careful. It typically starts out a little like this:
- Your kid tracks mud through the living room, and you snap. She hangs her head, and you’re not proud of snapping at her. But you clean it up together, and you both move on.
- Then 30 minutes later when you ask for help folding laundry, you realize the truth about who’s moved on. She stomps over to the laundry basket and won’t make eye contact. She’s still stuck on the mud mishap.
- And so you snip at each other, back and forth, back and forth – getting progressively grumpier with each other in each exchange. Suddenly, you get the feeling you’re on the outside looking in, and you wonder: Where did we go so wrong?
Science shows that in happy relationships, you need a ratio of five positive interactions to every one negative interaction. When my 8-year-old Abby and I have been snapping at each other all day, balancing every negative interaction with five positive exchanges feels like an impossible goal to get us back on track.
Here’s the good news: After researching how to find happiness in the chaos of parenting and writing a book about it, I can usually catch myself much earlier when we start down that path.
But the truth is, we still have these moments. I find myself wishing life had a reset button so we can start fresh and erase the negativity.
And my attempts to reset my moody child’s attitude haven’t worked out well.
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This Is How It Goes
One morning not too long ago, Abby and her little sister Bailey came downstairs to breakfast, and I hugged both girls at the same time. It didn’t take long for Bailey to squirm out of the hug, leaving me still hugging Abby.
I kissed her on the top of her head. “How’d you sleep?”
“Not good. Bailey keeps kicking me and pushing me off the bed while she’s sleeping.”
I laughed. “You used to do the same thing when you slept.”
Her face darkened, and she pulled away from the hug. “No, I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did!” I laughed again. “And when we drove late at night on road trips, you’d flail your arms and legs.” She loves hearing stories about when she was younger, so I thought this little snippet would pull her back in.
“Well, I couldn’t sleep, and I was tired!” Her voice rose the tiniest amount.
My smile dropped. “I know you were tired. I’m just saying that you sleep the same way as Bailey.”
“No, I don’t!” Her voice went up another notch.
I decided to drop it, but the damage was done. As the morning went by, we got more and more snippy with each other.
An Attempt to Reset
I hated the idea of sending Abby off to school on that note, so while she was brushing her teeth, I walked into the bathroom, stood behind her, and rubbed her shoulders.
“Hey,” I said.
She kept her eyes on the bathroom sink as she brushed.
“Hey,” I repeated. I put my face down next to hers, looking straight at her face in the mirror.
She glanced up, and our eyes met. Victory! I thought.
I lowered my voice to just above a whisper. “Can we start over?”
She glared back for a full second, then dropped her eyes back to the bathroom sink while she washed out her toothbrush.
I stood there, waiting. But her body language was clear. I sighed and walked away.
If this is what it’s like at the age of 8, how in the world am I going to connect with her when she’s a moody teenager?
Related: A Quick Fix for a Pouting Kid
A Turning Point
This scene has played out several more times over the last few months. Every time, I ask, “Can we start over?” And every time, Abby snubs my olive branch.
Then something happened last Saturday that gave me hope.
Something I firmly believe every parent should teach their tweens before they become teenagers.
We’d just returned from picking out Abby’s first pair of glasses. That’s a story for another day, but you should know that she’s still making peace with her life sentence of corrective lenses. While we had fun picking out glasses together, a hodgepodge of conflicting emotions flooded her brain.
And so of course, we snapped at each other in the car the whole way home.
In the front seat, I pushed my tongue against my top teeth to catch myself from continuing the tennis match. And I thought, again: “Where did we go wrong?”
When we got home, I walked in the house without another word to Abby. I didn’t know what to say or what to do to get us back on track. And so horrible as it may sound, I opted for silence.
Baby Charlie was hungry, so I plopped her in the high chair and sat down next to her at the breakfast table.
In my peripheral vision, I saw Abby put her shoes away in the hall closet. I saw her head towards the stairs – her go-to move when she’s upset. And I was going to let her walk away because in that moment, I felt completely lost as a parent.
But I didn’t hear the baby gate open and close. And then I saw an 8-year-old body standing to the side of my chair.
I looked up, and she opened her mouth but didn’t say anything.
“What is it?” I asked. Not ready for another heated conversation, not ready to navigate the prickly patch of her emotions again.
She took a deep breath.
“Mommy, can we start over?”
Free Cheat Sheet: 16 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Kid
The Effect Was Immediate
My eyes filled.
“Oh, Abby.” I dropped the baby spoon and pulled Abby into a bear hug. “Yes, yes. Let’s start over.”
After a few seconds, I held her away from me a bit so I could see her face, and she smiled.
Pulling her back into the hug, I whispered, “Thank you.”
How to Get Through to Your Moody Child
Teach your moody child this phrase before you hit the teenage years:
“Can we start over?”
Teach this phrase when they’re 10 or 8 or even 3. If at first it doesn’t work, keep trying.
Because just when you think all is lost, your moody child may surprise you.
And when your sweet baby turns into a teenager filled with emotions so powerful they shock you both, this phrase may be the reset button that saves you.
Get Your Free Cheat Sheet
When you’re in the thick of a negative interaction, it’s hard for your brain to settle on the right thing to say. Use this cheat sheet of miracle phrases to help you in those tough moments. You’ll find this life-changing phrase plus 15 more. For the full story on these phrases, check out 10 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child.
- Get the free cheat sheet. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to get it and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock† would be ideal.
- Hang your cheat sheet somewhere handy like the fridge.
Here’s a sneak peek of your printable cheat sheet:
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
How do you reconnect with your moody child? Share in a comment below!