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How can I correct aggressive and negative behavior coming from my preteen?


​I am looking for new or better approaches for my preteen and teenager regarding their disruptive behavior. My preteen has been diagnosed with ADHD. I also have three younger children who are watching this behavior and now believe it is acceptable. My 8-year-old will follow my preteen's actions, and they will encourage each other to continue to misbehave.

An example of a misbehavior is my preteen pushing a younger sibling down to the floor and then denying it happened immediately after. My preteen then grins and smirks at me because he believes he is in control of the situation by lying to me.

My older children also have a bad habit of cussing and teaching the younger ones words that I would not like them to know or say at their age. My 8-year-old has started cussing. My 5-year-old is also slowly learning this as the older children find it funny to teach them those words. Also, there are times when I am scared of my 12-year-old. There is also a possibility that my 14-year-old is scared of my 12-year-old, and if this is the case, I wouldn't be surprised if the younger kids are also scared of him.

I, myself, need some help keeping calm when these behaviors are happening as I do react and need tools to help me help them.


arguing sisters

Thank you for reaching out to the Boys Town National Hotline® today. Parenting is not easy! We are so glad you found our website and decided to reach out for help today! It definitely sounds like you have your hands full with these kiddos! Remember to take time for yourself – even if it is just 10-15 minutes here and there. Parents need to feel their best so they can provide the best care to their little ones. Self-care is often overlooked, but it is so important for parents. You deserve it!

It sounds like the primary root of these concerning behaviors is coming from the 12-year-old. Do you have any support services already in place like therapy, counseling or family support? If not, these might be helpful to implement now before behaviors escalate. A helpful first step would be connecting with his school counselor. They can assess the situation and then refer you to other, outside counselors if necessary. Sometimes it helps to get a professional's opinion about what is going on.

It will be important to clearly explain what your home expectations are (hands to yourselves, no cussing, inside voice used, electronics turned in at a specific time, etc.) and then explain what the consequences will be if these are not followed (extra chores, no electronics, writing an apology letter, saying three nice things to someone, etc.). Since you have little ones in the home as well, it may help to write/draw these on a big board and hang them somewhere in the house for the kids to see. This way, there will be no debates or arguments when a kiddo receives a consequence. Consequences work best when they are delivered consistently (e.g., every time your son pushes someone down or every time there is a cuss word said) and on a “behavior-based" method. Sometimes, parents provide consequences on a “time-based" method – for example, telling children they lost their tablet for one week. This is not as effective as behavior-based – telling children they will earn the privilege of using their tablet back when they show positive behavior. This typically encourages children to actually work on the negative behavior and change it rather than just waiting out their time.

How to Stop Constant Bickering Between Brothers | Boys Town is a great article to read if you have not already. Even though you did not mention bickering, this article has a great suggestion about a Chore Jar. This can be an interactive way to get the kids involved as well. You can have each kiddo write a few chores to do and then you can add them to a jar. When that child earns the negative consequence of adding another chore, they can pick one from the jar. On the flip side, it may also be helpful to add a Joy Jar. Again, you can make this interactive and have the kiddos write some fun things that they enjoy doing (choosing what to eat for dinner, helping cook/bake, picking the movie the family watches at night, staying up an extra 10 minutes, having a sleepover with a friend, etc.) and adding those to the Joy Jar. When you see a kiddo doing something you approve of (helping a sibling with a chore/homework, doing something that was not asked of them, playing nicely, etc.), you can have them pick something from the Joy Jar as a positive consequence.

Another helpful thing you may want to look into is signing up for the free Boys Town email series: Parenting Email Series | Boys Town. This can be helpful for parents to get some techniques, strategies and ideas emailed to them periodically. It may also help to call into the Boys Town Hotline so we can discuss your situation in a little more depth and provide you with additional suggestions and resources. Crisis Counselors are available 24/7 to answer your call. If you feel most comfortable with emailing, please feel free to continue to email in at any time.

We hope these suggestions can point you in the right direction. Remember, parenting is not an easy thing. Everyone needs help at one point or another, so please never hesitate to ask for help. Also remember to take some time for yourself​.