Written by Doctor G

How Do You Punish “Sassy?”

sassy girlI would love to know what an appropriate punishment is for a sassy 10 year old. My daughter is generally a great kid, but she has started being really mean to her 6 year old brother as well as being very dismissive toward any suggestions by me or things I ask her to do. When this happens, I am at a loss of what to punish her with. My kids are not allowed electronics during the week. Her 1st love is sport and swimming, but I am loathed to withdraw her from those as a punishment.

Anonymous, in Canada

What’s the life lesson here?

When I’m stuck trying to connect a meaningful consequence  to one of my kids’ poor choices, I usually ask myself – what am I trying to teach? If this behavior went unchanged, what would the problem be for my child?

What’s going on with her?

Your daughter’s disregard (or seeming disregard) for your suggestions or requests may come from a place she thinks of as growing maturity. She may believe that she can now treat you more as an “equal” or as she would a friend. She is wrong.

It’s developmentally normal for her to be annoyed by her little brother. That does not make it acceptable to be mean to him.

Where does “sassy” get you?

Treating people with disrespect will lead her towards an adulthood she doesn’t want. “Sassy” teens get less leeway from teachers, find themselves in trouble more, and have fewer opportunities in extra-curricular activities or jobs.

Help her make the connection.

The consequences your give your child for her poor attitude will work the fastest if she sees how nasty behavior hurts – and respectful behavior builds – relationships and opportunities. Here is one way you can demonstrate that to her. Sit with her alone and:

  1. Ask her what she admires about you.
  2. Tell her what you admire about her.
  3. Repeat back to her (calmly) something disrespectful she’s said to you recently.
  4. Ask her how she would feel if one of her friends spoke to you that way.
  5. Let her know that you don’t want her to be spoken to that way and you also are not willing to be treated that way.
  6. Ask her how you can remind her (in a way that she can hear) if she does it again.
  7. Ask her what her consequence should be if (when) she speaks to you that way again.
  8. Make a plan that she understands, and stick to it. She does not have to like it!

Focus first on how she is treating you. After that is under better control, you’ll have more luck getting your children to treat each other respectfully.

This process takes some insight, but most ten year olds can do this. It may take a few tries. Chances are high she doesn’t like how she feels when she is dismissive towards you, she wants to treat you well but is trying out something new, and being careless of your (and her brother’s) feelings.

Will you let me know if you try this, and how it goes?

Parents, how have you handled an attitude change in the tween years?

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