Aggressive children with difficult temperaments tend to become increasingly challenging to manage as they get older. During the latter half of the tween years, they can get physically big enough to just say “no,” and their parents can no longer control them. Tweens who are very oppositional and defiant are at risk for escalating. They go from tearing up household possessions and raging at family members to unleashing their venom in the community. In school they disrupt classrooms, defy administrators, fight with their peers, lash out at their teachers, and vandalize property. Gang members and loners alike set fires, shoplift, and terrorize people of all ages.A Challenge to Parents
Youngsters with attachment problems thwart their parents' efforts to be close to them or enforce consequences due to their inability to trust and their terror of being vulnerable. Other common characteristics are being exceptionally manipulative and refusing affection except on their terms.
Attachment research remains in its infancy, and some controversy exists regarding every aspect of this emerging field, from the nature of bonding itself to the best way to help children who completely reject adult authority. It is clear that they must learn to cope with limits and rules, but the customary methods of setting limits and enforcing consequences require some cooperation on the part of the child.
When a tween adopts a stance of “I won't cooperate and you can't make me,” the customary disciplinary methods fail. An attachment-disordered child may feel so threatened when a parent or teacher tries to take charge, she will fight as if her life hung in the balance.
Most youngsters are relieved when their parents express an intention to tackle problems head-on and help them become more disciplined. That doesn't mean your out-of-control tween will let you know that she welcomes your attempts to curb her difficult and unruly behavior. Rules may frighten her if she doubts her ability to adhere to them. If she has trust issues, she may feel frightened of what will happen if you take charge. If she is accustomed to having consequences only enforced when you are angry, she may feel you are merely trying to punish her and require many reminders about what you are trying to accomplish.
Most tweens understand intellectually that certain behaviors are wrong, feel badly about misbehaving, and recognize that limits are supposed to help them even if they don't feel helped. They have learned the value of rules at school, and they accept their importance even though they don't like them or feel inclined to follow them.
If she has been able to circumvent or ignore rules by displays of sadness, she may think that you are holding firm because you don't love her any more, so your affection becomes even more important. She may even be angry that you have neglected to attend to her problems in the past. If so, she may confront you with lines like, “Where were you when I was a little kid and needed these rules?” Such statements can make parents doubt that they will ever get things right.Difficulties Setting Limits
Attachment-disordered tweens can be very astute about the subtleties of family dynamics. Some know that if they cooperate with new rules for a few days, their parents will soon lose interest and they can then regain control. Others have learned that if they raise a ruckus for a few days, their parents will become too upset to continue enforcing rules, and the whole matter will soon be dropped. Still others know that by hurling some nasty insults, slamming a few doors, breaking some toys, or putting their fists through a wall, they can intimidate their parents and get them to back down.
Distraction works to subvert rules and avoid consequences in some households. Accordingly, children may challenge their mothers' authority to enforce dietary rules by accusing her of overindulging. They may insist their father has no right to limit their TV watching because he watches TV. They may raise accusations of favoritism (“You didn't treat my sister this way when she was my age”) or of having ruined their lives (“You divorced my Dad and everything has been terrible ever since”). It is easy to get sidetracked, but it is important not to miss what is going on. Her very method of trying to convince you that she doesn't need limits and consequences only goes to prove how very much she does need them.