These Three Parenting Steps Can Make All The Difference With Your Tween


Guest Post by Karen Kraut, MPH

Remember when your tween was 3 and you could simply lift up her thrashing body and put her into the car when you needed to leave the playground but she wouldn’t go? Or when he was 7 and you told him that if he didn’t clean up his room, he couldn’t play Minecraft?

While those strategies may not have felt like your most shining moments as a parent, at least they (sometimes) worked. With a tween, they no longer do.

Manhandling their big body is pretty much off the table. And while imposing consequences may still get results on occasion, often they precipitate significant negative side effects: escalating the challenging behavior you’re trying to curtail, sending the message “might makes right” (i.e., I’m bigger than you and I can make you do what I want), and damaging what we value most: our relationship.

So what can you do when your tween isn’t meeting your expectations or shows challenging behavior? Instead of imposing your will, how about using a parenting approach that taps into a central feature of adolescence: autonomy.

Developmentally, adolescents have an increasing desire for autonomy, independence and control. At best they bristle when we tell them what to do and, at worst, they explode, get nasty, lie or sneak around. The conventional parenting approach “Do it or else” collides head on with their growing sense of individuality and rejection of authority.

The Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach, developed by Dr. Ross Greene and the Think: Kids program in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, incorporates a child’s desire for autonomy right into the model. CPS has two main principles: that challenging behavior is best understood as a result of lagging skills (skills like flexibility, frustration tolerance and problem-solving) and that the best way to address the child’s challenging behavior is by teaching kids the skills they lack.

Once a parent has identified a specific problem (e.g., texting during dinner), CPS employs 3 key steps: 1) empathize with child to understand his/her perspective on the issue, 2) share your concerns/perspective, and 3) brainstorm, assess, and choose a mutually satisfying solution to try.

As is evident from these steps, CPS demonstrates genuine respect for the tween, a desire to understand where they’re coming from, and a commitment to selecting a solution that is mutually satisfying, not one that just works for the parent.  

In addition to respecting their desire for autonomy, the process of engaging a tween in these steps builds their skills in flexibility, self-regulation, communication and problem-solving. Most importantly, it fosters a positive relationship between the parent and the tween. Research has shown that the best predictor of success in helping people change is the relationship between the helper and the helpee.

Not only is Collaborative Problem Solving a remarkably effective parenting approach, but parents can feel good about the values they are modeling to their kids: empathy, respect, curiosity and flexibility. Compare that to the values we model when we impose our will: power-over, rigidity, self-interest, and insensitivity to others.

At its essence, the Collaborative Problem Solving approach is a respectful communications framework that brings out the best of both parents and kids and particularly resonates with emerging adolescents who, developmentally, increasingly value and seek autonomy.

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Karen Kraut, MPH, is a Parenting Coach who specializes in the Collaborative Problem Solving approach and founder of Be The Parent You Want To Be! She provides individual/couples coaching in CPS, leads workshops and presents on CPS throughout greater Boston, and has worked with over 800 parents in the last 5 years. or Facebook.

PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.