Confessions & Confusions: My Strategies For Handling A Whiny Adolescent
Or How To Stay Positive When you're About To Explode
They whine, we cry. Or…?
This is not an issue particular to adoptive or foster families, of course. Every child goes through their period(s) of being a whiny pain in the b*tt for their parents and that is normal — we have been there ourselves, haven’t we? But when you’re in that situation yourself, chances are it’s hard to tell yourself to keep staying calm.
My son Shinji is now 12 going on 13 and lately, it’s been a stream of non-stop complaining from morning until night. This might be an issue of adolescent angst looking for a place to go and that old song “you always hurt the one you love” ringing true. Wherever it comes from, though, it’s annoying, and today I thought I’d share my strategies for dealing with it, because they might be helpful to other parents, too.
Basically, my strategies are two: 1) Remind yourself of yourself at that age, and 2) Find the funny!
You’ve been there too and you know it
When I was 12 going on 13, I was terrible. Go ahead and ask my parents and they’ll tell you, especially my dad, who once said to me, “There was a time when I didn’t like you.” It was probably that time. Or it may have been the time later that I got pregnant after a one-night stand, or maybe it was the time I was dating a guy my folks really didn’t like, or maybe… ah, do I want to go there? No, I don’t. Let’s stay with the 12-13-year-old me.
With friends, I was docile, obedient, and grateful. At home, I was defiant, angry, and annoying.
I had zero confidence. I was awkward and gawky (two great Scrabble words). After a year of being bullied non-stop at age 11, I was grateful to have any friends at all and would follow one particular friend around like a faithful dog. My dad came into my room one night and paced back and forth, unable to make eye-contact to tell me how disgusted he was that I acted in such a way and that I should have more pride in myself – at the time, I had no idea what he was talking about.
With friends, I was docile, obedient, and grateful, although I clearly felt I was fundamentally different from them. At home, I was defiant, angry, and annoying. I whined daily that I needed my own phone, I whined that I needed the same clothes as my friends. I fought with my sister constantly and the name calling was quite awful. I remember tossing an unwrapped birthday present to my dad, and getting told off for my bad manners. Yes, this is all true and this was me. And my distress was everybody else’s fault, although I hated myself thoroughly and wondered if I’d ever be “normal.”
Now, I grew up with my birth parents and felt this way, and I’m probably not alone in that. But imagine what it’s like for children going through adolescence with an even extra layer of self-loathing for feeling that they have been “thrown away” or that they were unwanted by their birth parents. There’s a big, dark hole in their hearts that even our love might not be able to fill. Adult adoptees I know assure me that they go through this adolescent feeling again and again throughout their lives.
Managing your anger and frustration
Some time ago, Shinji was grumping and grousing and wrote the Chinese character for death (死) on the kitchen whiteboard. Instead of getting upset, as I think he expected, I said, “Wow, your kanji is really good. You should teach me.” He quietly erased it and went to school.
This morning, he started off the day throwing my workout sweatpants, which had accidentally ended up in his clothing drawer.
Yesterday, he complained that I cooked bacon for myself for breakfast (husband usually makes it and everyone else had eaten, but I have a cold, so got up later and had to make my own). Shinji whined about how unfair it was that I got bacon and he didn’t and spent the rest of the morning before going to school crying out “bacon, bacon!” and demanding that I make some for him, although he’d already eaten and brushed his teeth.
This morning, he started off the day throwing my workout sweatpants, which had accidentally ended up in his clothing drawer, on the floor and complaining that I’m noisy. Everything I do is noisy: the way I talk, the way I laugh, the way I blow my nose. He finally came out and told me that I was embarrassing him.
I stopped, thought about it for a moment, and then used strategy No. 2.
“Hooray, I’m glad to hear it!” I said with glee. “I’m doing my job! All normal here!” My lovely husband chimed in: “Thank you!” he said.
Later in the morning, my son demanded that I cook some bacon for him. “Why would I do anything for you, when you were so rude to me earlier?” I asked. “You must think I’m a big dummy!” “Yep,” he replied. “Yeah, I thought so,” I said.
As he left for school, he said, as he says every day lately, “Bye-bye, I’m not coming back.” “Oh, I’ll miss you,” I replied, but added cheerily, “Bye, then!”
Probably many parents, like my dear husband have trouble with this. When Shinji is in his face whining non-stop, he tends to blow his stack. No matter how many times I tell him Shinji is controlling him by pushing his buttons, he allows them to be pushed. I’ve decided that this is between the two of them and it’s up to my husband to come up with his own strategy for dealing.
As for me, I will continue to look for the funny. Sometimes, I can’t, mind you, and I have to leave the room, and to tell the truth, I do blow my top from time to time, but I usually apologize after and promise to do better. (Although, since I rarely get angry, when I do, the kids sit up and take notice and usually try extra hard to behave.)
This second strategy, by the way, is one I learned from my dad when I was younger.
“Laugh at yourself first; beat them to it.” It’s a good way to deal with bullies and it might work with your kids, too!
What are your strategies when dealing with your whining son or daughter? Should the approach be different for girls and boys? Share your thoughts in the comments.
“Confessions & Confusions” is Melodie Cook’s regular column on adoption and fostering in Japan. Here, she answers questions from potential adoptive or foster parents, those who have already been through the system or any parents who just need to let off some steam. Got a question? Leave a comment or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.