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Oregon Family Magazine

Motivating Pre-Teens to Stick-to-It

12/29/2014 07:46 ● By Sandy Kauten
Q: Each of my family members made – and shared – a New Year’s goal or resolution. Already, my pre-teen is ready to give up. This happens often, when even the slightest challenge or bit of opposition presents itself. How can I gently encourage more fortitude and self-discipline?

Parenting a pre-teen can be particularly challenging as you balance the vulnerability of childhood with the independence of a teenager. It can be difficult, but your role is to remain positive while you gently guide the way.

Remain positive

  • Resist criticism, even if it is constructive. Kids hear so many messages conveying doubts and limits. Your unconditional support instills confidence and makes it more likely your pre-teen will achieve her goals.
  • Make it a habit to praise effort rather than results. (For example, "I like how hard you worked on your math homework" instead of "Good job, you got 100%!")
  • Avoid establishing a “rescue pattern” by swooping in only at times of stress or perceived failure. Instead, help your pre-teen on a regular basis, before crisis or doubt has struck. This makes it easier for him to ask for help because it is less likely to be seen as an admission of dire need.
  • Believe in your child’s ability to succeed with her goal. Even if you have doubts, identify the points in her favor and champion success.

Remember that you need to be the safety net at this point, not to help your child avoid the danger of failure. Make sure he knows you will be there if you are needed, and when you are, normalize the bumps.

 Normalize challenge and difficulty

  • Everyone faces challenges and suffers failures. But in the pre-teen realm, it’s handled more smoothly in public. Once home, the upset can be experienced unchecked. Allow some time and space for tears and you will be helping to remove the stigma from failure.
  • Positively reinforce even the slightest bit of "perseverance," even if it is unrelated to what you see as your child’s goals. For example, "I’m impressed. I could see that you became frustrated while you were practicing, but you pushed through until you got it!"
  • Find something your pre-teen is really good at and help him to understand all the steps and hard work he made to get to that point. Extend that to the challenge at hand.

At this point in your pre-teen’s life, the stakes seem high, but you know better. It can be tricky to keep this in perspective without diminishing the importance or significance of the goal. You might find that it is helpful to identify key points along the way that demonstrate the traits you are hoping to cultivate, and recognize those. By doing this, you’ll be honoring the hard work of one leg of the race, despite the final race outcome.

 Celebrate Successes – even small ones

  • Practice setting smaller, more manageable goals and celebrate those achievements when they arise.
  • Try to focus on what motivates the pre-teen to make positive choices and consider setting healthy reward motivators along the way.
  • Try applying these guidelines for all types of challenges and goals – not just the really big ones. This helps instill good practices and habits and makes it more likely that your child will establish patterns to rely upon in the future, when you’re not there to guide her.

Finally, be open about your own personal challenges. Let your child know that everyone struggles, and allow her to witness you accessing tools like family support, positive thinking, and plain old endurance to see it through and preserver.

This guidance was gathered by the professional counseling staff of mental health professionals at Eugene Therapy and its Corvallis office, Oregon Counseling. The team provides the mental health support many of us need at one time or another. Specialties include teen and family support, parenting, anxiety and depression management, eating disorders, couples counseling, trauma coping and recovery, grief and loss, substance abuse and other challenges.