Tween Discipline: Strategies and Challenges

Behavioral problems and effective solutions for 10-, 11-, and 12-Year-Olds

Mother and daughter arguing

JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

By the time children become tweens, they’ve outgrown some of the discipline strategies that worked well when they were younger. With one foot in childhood and another in adolescence, the behaviors that require discipline are also likely to shift.

When children turn 10, peers and appearance become increasingly important while authority might be something they start to question in their quest for independence. This can be challenging for parents to navigate. “This is a time of immense psychological and physiological change and as such, we see evidence of emerging maturity mixed with flashes of temper that seem younger,” says Joanna Fortune, MICP, MIFPP, CTTS, a UK-based clinical psychotherapist and attachment specialist with expertise in child and adolescent psychotherapy.

The good news is that with effective discipline strategies, you can address any behavior problems while maintaining a close connection with your child. With the right strategies, you can help your tween learn the skills they're going to need to thrive during the teen years and beyond.

Discipline strategies for tweens
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Typical Tween Behavior

You'll likely notice many behaviors in your tween that are common for their age group. 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 face a variety of issues, ranging from hormonal changes and physical growth to social pressure and increased academic work.

It’s also common for tweens to spend more time with friends, rather than family. So, don’t be too surprised when your 10-year-old wants to spend the night at their friend’s house instead of having pizza and watching a movie with you. “Our tweens are experimenting with who and how they are, and they are looking toward their peer group more for validation and approval,” explains Dr. Fortune, who is also the author of the “15 Minute Parenting” books. 

Tweens typically exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Fluctuating self-esteem 
  • Increasing awareness of how others perceive them
  • Prefer to spend time with friends over family
  • Become aware of their academic abilities
  • Self-consciousness surrounding their developing bodies

Common Tween Challenges

The tween stage is not without its challenges. Tweens are trying to fit in, look cool, and appear grown-up. 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 rough 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 also start to emerge during the tween years. “A tween is going to question your decisions and might even sound like they know better,” says Aliza Pressman, PhD, a professor of pediatrics and psychologist at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital in New York City. “It may be the kind of thing where your tween is using language like ‘I’m the only one of my friends who.’” While this pushback is often frustrating for parents and caregivers, it is also developmentally appropriate.

Challenging tween behaviors can include: 

  • Becoming angry over seemingly small things
  • Questioning and challenging authority
  • Becoming argumentative and seeking out loopholes in your rules 
  • Misbehaving in order to fit in and impress friends
  • Thinking they’re able to do everything on their own

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 approaches that will teach them to make better choices in the future. You can try a handful of effective methods such as the following.

Engage in Problem-Solving

Parenting strategies need to adapt and grow in line with your child’s development. That means rather than simply telling your tween what to do (which might have worked when they were younger), it’s far more effective to problem-solve alongside them.

Point out a problem and ask for their input. For example, ask them how much screen time they think is appropriate rather than telling them. “If you frame things in a more collaborative way, it doesn’t mean if your tween says ‘I want five hours of screen time a night’ that you would say, ‘yes, that works,’” explains Dr. Pressman. “But you would say, ‘OK, I hear what you’re looking for.’ And then you can question that logic. There’s a little more conversation and collaboration, but it is not a democracy—there’s still a final say.”

If your child weighs in on the possible solutions, they’ll likely be more motivated to improve their behavior.

Use Natural Consequences

Your child’s reasoning and problem-solving skills become more advanced around this age, so many tweens think they’re able to do everything on their own. While it might fly in the face of your parental instincts, it’s important to step aside and let your tween make some of their own choices (and mistakes), provided it’s safe for them to do so. 

“We need to now afford them more opportunity to make choices, try new things, attempt to work it out before we jump in to rescue,” says Dr. Fortune. This means allowing your child to face the natural consequences of their behavior—good or bad. So rather than remind them repeatedly to pack their snack for school, let them forget it one day. Missing out on a snack might help them remember to pack a snack the next time.

Rethink the Reward System

For some tweens, a simple reward system can be key to helping your child stay motivated. However, this is not always an effective discipline strategy for children at this developmental stage. “If you used a behavior modification kind of discipline when your kids were younger, with rewards and incentives, it usually doesn’t work with older kids,” warns Dr. Pressman. 

This is because tweens want to feel respected and more grown-up. Instead of a reward system, your child might be more receptive to having their behavior modified through conversation.

“It is important that we afford them opportunities to ​self-correct their behavior by reminding them of our expectations,” says Dr. Fortune. “[You could say something like], ‘I think you have forgotten how we speak to each other in this family, would you like to try that again?’ If they do it appropriately the second time, praise them and move on.” 

Create a Behavior Contract

If a grown-up conversation just isn't going to cut it with your tween (or they aren't quite ready for that level of maturity), consider introducing a behavior contract. A behavior contract is a step up from a rewards system and it outlines what your child needs to do to earn and keep extra privileges.

For example, 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.

Provide Pre-Teaching

Your tween's brain is undergoing some big developmental changes and their desire for independence is kicking in. As a parent, knowing when to take a step back can be challenging. “It can be a confusing time for both parent and child as they seem ready for independence in one moment and not at all ready another moment,” says Dr. Fortune. 

You can encourage your tween’s desire for independence by finding safe and comfortable opportunities for them to give things a go alone. Talk about the rules and your expectations beforehand. Spend some time reviewing how they might handle specific problems that could arise.

Once your child shows you what they can handle, you can gradually allow them more independence. “Sometimes it is hard for us parents to make the space they need to grow and develop with reference to their world outside of just us,” acknowledges Dr. Fortune. With your guidance, autonomy is something your tween will refine further as they approach adolescence. 

Take Away Privileges

When your child misbehaves, remove a meaningful privilege. This might be taking away electronics for 24 hours or not allowing 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.

However, when dishing out the harsh punishments, cast your mind back to how it felt to be disciplined by your parents at this age. "Recall in detail the incident and what happened," says Dr. Fortune. "How did it feel for you at the time and how does it feels now to recall it? How do you wish you had been responded to by your parents and how would that have helped you?" When disciplining your child, let how you wish it had been for you be your starting point.

Preventing Future Problems

In addition to responding to the behavior you don't want your tween to repeat, you can encourage good behavior. A few simple strategies may go a long way in preventing behavior problems before they start.

Prioritize Connection

Disciplining your child should not come at the expense of your close connection. "Always invest in your emotional connection before you attempt a behavioral correction," says Dr. Fortune. But that doesn't mean that you should be permissive in your approach to discipline.

"You always want to prioritize connection when you’re having discipline conversations," says Dr. Pressman. "Connection and limits, it’s not and/or." An authoritative parenting style, which is being sensitive but with clear boundaries and limits, is associated with safer, healthier outcomes in children.

Avoid Labeling Your Child

Avoid referring to your child as, “the athletic one,” or, “my little artist." 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 upfront. So, before your child goes to a movie with a friend or before you drop them off at the town pool, explain your rules. 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. 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

While keeping a close eye on your kid is necessary, 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. As adults, we have the full capacity for self-regulation while our tweens will grapple with this into their mid-twenties.

In heated moments, it is your job as the grown-up to calmly take control of the situation. 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. "You’re investing in their long-term self-regulation because we know that parents who are more self-regulated have kids who become more self-regulated," says Dr. Pressman.

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 tips to improve communication with your growing child.

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 your tween thinks, 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

Instead of simply asking if your child has a good day (a yes or no question), ask more open-ended questions to start conversations. You can ask about movie characters, what their friends are doing, and how they feel about current events. 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.

Give Your Child Some Input on the Rules

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.

A Word From Verywell

As your child enters the tween years, new behaviors and stages of development will require new discipline strategies. Effective discipline balances your child's need for greater independence with reasonable age-appropriate rules and boundaries to keep them healthy and safe.

Parenting adolescents comes with some ups and downs. But with open communication and a willingness to learn and grow, parents and tweens can truly enjoy this exciting stage of the child's development.

Originally written by
Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

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