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 she’s going to need to thrive during the teen years.

Discipline strategies for tweens
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Typical Tween 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 his friend’s house, rather than having pizza and watching a movie with you.

While some tweens really begin to shine academically, others may grow painfully aware that they struggle more with school than their peers.

It’s 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 common for them to become self-conscious. One child may feel insecure because her friends are developing faster while another may feel bad she’s developing earlier than her peers.

The tween years are when most children begin to think more about how others perceive them. They worry about what their friends think of them.

Common Challenges With Tweens

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 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 may start to emerge during the tween years as well. 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 him to pick up his socks or wash his 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 may look for loopholes in your rules as well. If you say, “No TV after dinner,” he may try to delay dinner as long as possible so he can watch TV longer. Or, if you tell him to stop watching TV, he may say, “I’m not watching TV. I’m watching my tablet.”

Discipline Strategies That Work on Tweens

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 him 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 he needs to do to earn and keep extra privileges. If he wants a smartphone, explain how he could show you when he’s ready for that responsibility. Write down the behaviors you’d need to see from him, such as getting his chores done on time and putting away his 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 her 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 her an allowance for doing her chores or let her invite a friend to the movies if she gets all of her homework handed in on time. Or, create a token economy system that helps her practice new behaviors.
  • Provide pre-teaching. It’s likely your 11-year-old will start doing more things on her own. Before you send her into new situations, talk about the rules and your expectations. Spend some time reviewing how she might handle specific problems that could arise.
  • Engage in problem-solving. Rather than tell your child what to do, problem-solve with her. Point out a problem and ask for her input by saying, “You keep forgetting to bring your basketball sneakers with you to school. What can we do so you’ll remember?” If she weighs in on the possible solutions, she’ll likely be more motivated to improve her behavior.
  • Allow for natural consequences. Step aside and let your child make some mistakes. Allow her to face the natural consequences of her behavior. So rather than remind her repeatedly to pack her snack for school, let her forget it one day. Missing out on a snack and feeling hungry might help her remember to pack a snack the next time.

Preventing Future Problems

A few simple strategies may go a long way to 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 him when he was 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 him off at the town pool, explain your rules ahead of time. Make it clear what you want to see from him and what you expect him to do if he encounters any trouble.
  • Tell your child about the underlying reasons for your rules. Make sure your child knows why you establish your rules. You don’t want him to think, “I have to go to bed early because my mom is mean.” Instead, teach him he needs to get sleep because it’s good for his brain and his body. When he understands the reasons behind your rules, he’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, he won’t yet have the decision-making skills to navigate all of life's challenges. So it’s important to keep an eye on his activities. Know who he spends time with, where he is going, and what he’s doing online.
  • Give your child some freedom. On the other hand, avoid being overprotective. 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 she behaves responsibly. 
  • Model proper behavior. One of the best ways to teach good behavior to your tween is to model it 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 for Parents of Tweens

Talking to a tween can feel like an uphill battle sometimes. Whether your tween insists he knows everything you tell him or he seems 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 she thinks, she’ll start to value her own opinion. That’s important because you want her to be a critical thinker who knows she can make healthy decisions.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Ask questions about movie characters, what her friends are doing and how she feels about current events. Ask her how she arrived at her decisions and why she thinks the way she does. She’ll start developing some of her own values and beliefs soon, and many of those might be different from yours. So now is a great time to help her understand why she thinks the way she does—not simply because that’s what someone told her to think.
  • Talk about how to gain more freedom. Explain that rules are based on your child’s ability to show you he can handle more responsibility. So if he gets his homework done and does his chores without a reminder, you may be able to trust him to be more independent.
  • Invite your child’s input on the rules once in a while too. Ask your child what she thinks of the rules to give her an opportunity for her to practice expressing her 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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  2. Positive parenting tips. Middle Childhood (9-11 years of age. Child development. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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