5 Ways Young Teens Are Like Toddlers (Part 2)

In my previous post, I talked about why our teens behave like toddlers, throwing temper tantrums and exerting their need for independence even though they cannot manage or handle that independence. I also shared some strategies on how parents can manage these issues. If you missed that post, you can find it here. In this post, we will look at more ways our young teens are like toddlers and what we can do to help them.

3) The Need For Transition Time

How many of you feel frustrated that when you give a command to your teen to do his homework, take a shower or go to bed NOW, you are met with either indifference or a temper tantrum? Well, you are not alone.

Like toddlers, our young teens are very absorbed in whatever it is they are currently doing. Like toddlers, our young teens cannot transition from one activity to another at the drop the hat, even though a year or two ago, or even a month ago, they could do it. Like toddlers, our young teens need transition time.

What is going on?

Like toddlers, our young teens want to be in control. Making them move from one activity to another without warning makes them feel out of control. And of course, that triggers resistance in them.  And when they feel resistance, they will put up a fight.

What could parents do?

Even as adults, we DO NOT LIKE to be interrupted and told to drop whatever it is we are doing to go on to the next thing. Yet we CAN do it. We may not like it, but we can definitely do it. That is because logically, we understand why we need to move on. Emotionally, we are able to control our displeasure. So we do what needs to be done even if we are not happy about it. But it is very different in the case of our teens. Logically, they may understand why they need to move on. Emotionally, however, they are unable to control their displeasure. And I would like to stress the lack of control is not their fault. So they WILL flare up.

The way to manage transitions then is to give sufficient warning so it does not come as a shock to our teens. I typically give three warnings to my teen. The first warning (usually 20-30 mins prior) lets him know that he has limited time left on what he is doing and he needs to start wrapping up. The second warning (usually 5-10 mins prior) lets him know the transition is inevitable and eminent and he HAS TO wrap things up SOON. By the time he hears the third warning (which is “Ok, time’s up, let’s move on”), he knows he has been given the opportunity to wrap things up. Whether he did it or not was his choice. What he gets is he was given a choice to wrap up whatever it was he was doing. And if he did not, he has less reasons to get mad. He was in control of how he wanted to leave the activity he was doing. I have found using the 3-warning system to be very effective in getting his cooperation on moving on to the next thing with minimal temper flare ups.

4) The Need For Routine

As our children grow up, we become more lax and allow them leeway in doing what they need to do. We think they are old enough to get their school work done. We believe they are sensible enough to know they need to brush their teeth twice a day and get a daily shower, with shampoo and soap. We are certain they know what time to go to bed and will go to bed when the time comes. Then we realize when they hit the early teen years, that most, if not all, of these things do not get done automatically, even though these were things that they have been doing on their own since they were 5 or 6 years old.

What is going on?

When our children hit the early teen years, they become highly distractable. They lose track of time and have an over-inflated confidence of what they can achieve. Combine all these traits and we get young teens who procrastinate on school work until it is too late to get it all done. We also get young teens who forget to brush their teeth or take a shower, not because they are lazy or dirty, but because they honestly thought they had already done it. No kidding!

What could parents do?

All of us thrive better with routine, even as adults. It is less stressful when we know what is coming up next. We know it helps our toddlers. For our young teens, it is even more critical. With the distractions they encounter all the time, routines help them anchor passage in time. As much as they may resist the structure, we need to put routines back in their lives, and remind them constantly to stick to those routines. The important thing is for us to design the routine with our teens’ inputs. And then it is up to US to help them stick to their chosen routine.

5) The Struggle With Sleep

Sleep. A hot topic amongst parents with little ones and parents of teens. Remember the time when our little ones gave up naps, were cranky all the time and yet refused to go to bed? Then our children hit early teens, and it feels like déjà vu, except this time, the bedtime battles seem bigger and more difficult to manage. Our teens refuse to go to bed at bedtime. Then they cannot wake up in the morning because they have gone to bed too late the night before. We may force, cajole, coax, bribe, threaten them to get them to bed but it is useless.

What is going on?

Blame it on the hormones and the shift in the circadian rhythm of our young teens. Generally, the teens stay awake 2 hours longer than when they were younger. That, together with the workload they have and the stress they face, their ability to fall asleep at the desired time decreases.

What could parents do?

Lovingly establish a routine, with your teen, and stick to it. It helps our teens to know what to expect. Sometimes they are so distracted and disoriented they do not know what to do, so they continue doing what they have been doing and “forget” to sleep. It definitely helps to establish the routine with our teens inputs. Have THEM work backwards what time they need to sleep based on what time THEY think they need to wake up and how many hours THEY think they need to sleep.

What if they say they need 5 hours of sleep? Agree to it. We know they need more, but for now, let us agree to it. Then ensure they go to bed at the time THEY decided based on their 5-hour sleep requirement. After a week, review it with them. Did 5 hours of sleep work for them? Did they feel tired and cranky mid-day even if they had fallen asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows and gotten their 5 hours of sleep. If they still felt tired, how many hours do THEY think they should sleep? Revise the time for bed. At the end of each week, review again and see if any changes need to be made.

This is going to take a few weeks. But trust me, when the teens are the ones who make the decisions, they will stick to their decisions better. If we cram our decisions down their throats, they will find all ways and means to circumvent those decisions and they will feel resentful towards us.

The other advantage to this technique is this. By helping our teens come to the right decisions themselves, we are teaching them how to make sound decisions. We are teaching them how to review and modify their decisions so they can achieve their desired outcome. We can use this method to help them make decisions in all aspects of their lives, not just setting the time for bed. In fact, I would caution parents NOT to make decisions for their teens. Do not explain why you made the decision or how you came to the decision. Instead, ask them questions, let them make the decisions, review those decisions after some time to see if they work, and if those did not, let the teens decide what they need to do.

Unlike with toddlers where parents can make most of the decisions, when it comes to teens, we need to step back and help our teens DERIVE the decisions to make.  Other than that, our young teens are like toddlers in many ways. It is a confusing and frustrating time for them.  And they need extra love and attention from us to get through this stage.  Hang in there.  This too shall pass.

–  Vivian –