How to Discipline and Handle Challenges With Tweens

By the time children become tweens, they’ve outgrown some of the discipline strategies that worked well when they were younger. And, the behaviors that require discipline are likely to shift too when children turn 10. It’s important to address behavior problems with effective discipline strategies that will help your tween learn the skills they're going to need to thrive during the teen years.

Discipline strategies for tweens
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Typical Behavior

Your tween will likely have replaced baby talk with back-talk and exchanged pint-sized temper tantrums with sulking. That’s all part of their normal development. Tweens are struggling with a variety of issues, ranging from hormonal changes and physical growth to social pressure and increased academic work.

It’s also normal for tweens to begin to spend more time with friends, rather than the family. So don’t be surprised when your 10-year-old wants to spend the night at their friend’s house, rather than having pizza and watching a movie with you.

Meanwhile, some tweens really begin to shine academically while others may grow painfully aware that they struggle more with school than their peers. It’s also common for tweens to struggle with a push and pull relationship with self-esteem. They may seem to lack humility one minute by saying things like, “I am the smartest kid in the whole school,” only to then add, “No one likes me.”

It’s also common for tweens to become self-conscious. One child may feel insecure because their friends are developing faster while another may feel embarrassed they're developing earlier than their peers.

A large part of this uncertainty has to do with a growing interest in how others perceive them. Tweens worry about what their friends think of them as well as what other students in the school think.

Common Challenges

Tweens are trying to fit in, look cool, and appear grown-up. So many of them start cursing in an attempt to sound older (or to impress their friends).

They also may become angry over seemingly small things. A bad test grade, an argument with a friend, a bad day on the ball field, or a request to clean a bedroom might set them off. Anger may lead to yelling, sulking, or slamming doors.

A “know-it-all” attitude also may start to emerge during the tween years. While a child’s reasoning and problem-solving skills become more advanced around this age, many tweens think they’re able to do everything on their own.

So don’t be surprised if your child says, “I know!” whenever you remind them to pick up their socks or wash their hands before dinner. It’s also common for 11-year-olds to become argumentative.

Your child may start to question your behavior by asking questions like, “You said you were only going to talk to Grandma for a few minutes. So why did you stay on the phone for an hour?” or, “You always say it’s not healthy to eat junk food. So why do you keep a bag of chocolate candy on your desk?”

Your tween also may look for loopholes in your rules as well. If you say, “No TV after dinner,” they may try to delay dinner as long as possible so they can watch TV longer. Or, if you tell them to stop watching TV, they may say, “I’m not watching TV. I’m watching my tablet.”

Discipline Strategies That Work

It’s important to make sure your discipline strategies match your child’s needs. When your child breaks the rules or misbehaves, use discipline strategies that will teach them to make better choices in the future. Here are the most effective discipline strategies for tweens.

  • Create a behavior contract. A behavior contract outlines what they need to do to earn and keep extra privileges. If they want a smartphone, explain how they could show you when they're ready for that responsibility. Write down the behaviors you’d need to see from them, such as getting their chores done on time and putting away their other electronics without arguing.
  • Take away privileges. When your child misbehaves, remove a meaningful privilege. Take away electronics for 24 hours or don’t allow them to go to a friend’s house over the weekend. Removing those privileges maintains your authority and sends a message that privileges must be earned.
  • Reward good behavior. A simple reward system can be key to helping your child stay motivated. Give them an allowance for doing their chores or let them invite a friend to the movies if they get all of their homework handed in on time. Or, create a token economy system that helps them practice new behaviors.
  • Provide pre-teaching. It’s likely your 11-year-old will start doing more things on their own. Before you send them into new situations, talk about the rules and your expectations. Spend some time reviewing how they might handle specific problems that could arise.
  • Engage in problem-solving. Rather than tell your child what to do, problem-solve with them. Point out a problem and ask for their input by saying, “You keep forgetting to bring your basketball sneakers with you to school. What can we do so you’ll remember?” If they weigh in on the possible solutions, they’ll likely be more motivated to improve their behavior.
  • Allow for natural consequences. Step aside and let your child make some mistakes. Allow them to face the natural consequences of their behavior. So rather than remind them repeatedly to pack their snack for school, let them forget it one day. Missing out on a snack and feeling hungry might help them remember to pack a snack the next time.

Preventing Future Problems

A few simple strategies may go a long way in preventing behavior problems before they start. Here's how you can encourage good behavior from your tween.

  • Avoid labeling your child. Referring to your child as, “the athletic one,” or, “my little artist,” isn’t a good idea. Even labels that are meant to be positive can be harmful. As kids grow and mature, their interests and abilities are likely to shift. Labels could cause your child to feel pressured to live up to the labels you placed on them when they were younger.
  • Explain your expectations ahead of time. Many behavior problems can be prevented by explaining your expectations up front. So before your child goes to a movie with a friend or before you drop them off at the town pool, explain your rules ahead of time. Make it clear what you want to see from them and what you expect them to do if they encounter any trouble.
  • Talk about the underlying reasons for your rules. Make sure your child knows why you establish your rules. You don’t want them to think, “I have to go to bed early because my mom is mean.” Instead, teach them that they need to get sleep because it’s good for their brain and their body. When they understand the reasons behind your rules, they’ll be more likely to make good choices when you aren’t there to enforce them.
  • Monitor your child’s day-to-day activities. Although your tween will likely want a lot of freedom, they won’t yet have the decision-making skills to navigate all of life's challenges. So it’s important to keep an eye on their activities. Know who they spend time with, where they are going, and what they're doing online.
  • Give your child some freedom. On the other hand, avoid being overprotective or a lawnmower parent. Kids need a little freedom to make mistakes and solve problems independently. Giving your child choices now can prevent bigger acts of rebellion later.
  • Teach anger management skills. Many behavior problems stem from anger management issues. Proactively teach your child how to deal with day-to-day frustrations, such as an unfair call in the soccer game or a last minute change in plans.
  • Make it clear that privileges must be earned. Privileges for your 10-year-old can include things like watching TV, playing on a tablet, and being allowed to go to a friend's home. Only allow your child to have those privileges when they behave responsibly. 
  • Model proper behavior. One of the best ways to teach appropriate behavior to your tween is to model good behavior yourself. By setting the best example you can, you show your child that even when times are tough or when emotions run high, it's possible to disagree with others and still show respect. Changing your own behavior may be difficult, but it's the best way to model the behavior you want to see in your child.

Communication Tips

Talking to a tween can feel like an uphill battle sometimes. Whether your tween insists they know everything or they seem to have nothing to say when you ask about your day, don’t give up. Here are some strategies for developing healthy communication with your tween.

  • Remind your child of the rules without nagging. Be prepared to have conversations about the household rules and the importance of enforcing them. It’s also imperative to continuously address issues like kindness and respect.
  • Listen to your child’s opinion. When you show that you value what they think, they'll start to value their own opinion. That’s important because you want them to be a critical thinker who knows they can make healthy decisions.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Ask questions about movie characters, what their friends are doing, and how they feel about current events. Ask them how they arrived at their decisions and why they think the way they do. They'll start developing some of their own values and beliefs soon, and many of those might be different from yours. So now is a great time to help them understand why they think the way they do—not simply because that’s what someone told them to think.
  • Talk about how to gain more freedom. Explain that rules are based on your child’s ability to show you they can handle more responsibility. So if they get their homework done and do their chores without a reminder, you may be able to trust them to be more independent.
  • Invite your child’s input on the rules once in a while too. Ask your child what they think of the rules. Doing so, gives them an opportunity to practice expressing their thoughts and ideas in a socially appropriate manner. Just make it clear that the ultimate decision is up to you and you won’t cave to whiningcomplaining, or disrespectful behavior.
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Article Sources
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  1. Sukhodolsky DG, Smith SD, Mccauley SA, Ibrahim K, Piasecka JB. Behavioral interventions for anger, irritability, and aggression in children and adolescents. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2016;26(1):58-64. doi:10.1089/cap.2015.0120

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Middle childhood (9-11 years of age). Updated March 6, 2020.

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