How Do I Deal with My 12-Year-Old Daughter’s Attitude?

The preteen years can be challenging for girls because the hormones estrogen and progesterone responsible for puberty in girls can cause them to experience mood swings and seem to have an
The preteen years can be challenging for girls because the hormones estrogen and progesterone responsible for puberty in girls can cause them to experience mood swings and seem to have an "attitude," which is normal during this stage. Some ways to deal with this include sometimes ignoring the behavior, not being judgmental, picking your battles, scheduling one-on-one time, and more.

During the preteen years, hormones kick in and puberty starts, often accompanied by a change in attitude. Pre-teen girls are still young and have child-like interests such as playing with dolls, but they also start to mature physically, emotionally, and socially during this time. Girls tend to start puberty around age 11, which is earlier than boys.

It is a challenging time for girls as they are growing up. The hormones estrogen and progesterone that are responsible for puberty in girls can cause them to experience mood swings. 

Pre-teen brains are also undergoing a growth spurt and “remodeling” of sorts, but the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision making, planning, thinking about consequences, solving problems, and controlling impulses isn’t quite finished developing. Because of this, adolescents use more of the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is associated with emotions, impulsive reactions, aggression, and instinctive behavior. 

In addition, during middle school, friendships become more complicated and school work becomes more demanding, adding more stress to their daily lives. 

Preteen girls may act as if their parents are mean, or uncool. This is normal, and actually a good sign your daughter is developmentally on track. She is both figuring out who she is as an individual and trying to separate from you as her parents, all while experiencing intense emotions. 

Normal, expected pre-teen behaviors that girls might exhibit include: 

  • Sarcastic tone of voice
  • Eye rolling
  • Rude responses to criticism or being told to do something
  • Defiant body language including crossed arms
  • Criticizing or nitpicking parents
  • Heavy sighs or other nonverbal expressions of annoyance

Behaviors that are not normal and may be a sign your daughter needs help include: 

  • Getting into trouble for being disrespectful at school
  • Withdrawal from friends 
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Breaking or damaging things when angry
  • Problems getting along with peers
  • Any very sudden or dramatic changes in mood or personality
  • Thinking or talking about self-harm

If your child seems to be struggling with any of these behaviors, talk to your pediatrician or a therapist. Despite all the changes your pre-teen daughter is going through, there are ways to deal with her attitude. 

  • Ignore the behaviors
    • Keep in mind that most of the behaviors 12-year-old girls exhibit are completely normal, and not harmful or dangerous
    • Often, it’s best to ignore the behavior because children often repeat behaviors that get them attention from their parents, even if the attention is negative 
  • Don’t feel rejected when your daughter asserts independence
    • It’s age-appropriate for tweens to start relying more on friends and less on parents
    • It’s not a personal rejection, but a normal part of childhood development 
  • Try an indirect approach
    • If you ask direct questions, your pre-teen daughter will feel overwhelmed and intruded upon
    • Just listen and don’t ask so many questions so your daughter feels like she has permission to talk about whatever she is thinking or feeling
    • Your daughter may or may not be open to your advice, but what is important is you’re there to listen and support her in whatever she is going through
  • Monitor your own tone when communicating and don’t be judgmental
    • Take a look at your own behaviors — sometimes parents are part of the problem
    • If you yell or use sarcasm, your daughter is more likely to copy your behavior
    • Children notice how judgmental you are and take their cues on how to behave from their parents
    • Speak calmly and respectfully and they are more likely to do the same
    • Always speak to your child respectfully, even when angry to model the behavior you want to see
    • Don’t react to your daughter’s attitude with your own attitude because that only makes things worse
    • Don’t engage with or overreact to your pre-teen’s bad attitude or give it more attention than warranted
  • Discipline using logical consequences
    • Instead of taking away privileges, try using discipline that helps your daughter connect cause and effect
    • For example, if your daughter refuses to clean her room, this means you might have to do it, which means you will not be able to drive her to the movies with her friends later
  • Offer a chance for a “do-over” 
    • Preteens may not realize they’re speaking in a sarcastic or negative tone of voice
    • Help your daughter develop more self-awareness and allow her to repeat herself, without the attitude 
  • Pick your battles
    • Focus on the issues that are important to you, and let the rest slide 
    • Parents can ignore an occasional sarcastic comment 
    • Not everything has to be a teaching moment
  • Schedule positive, one-on-one time
    • Sometimes your pre-teen daughter’s attitude can be exhausting, causing you not to want to be around her as much, but this can strain your relationship
    • Despite the attitude, your daughter still craves your time and attention
    • Find activities both of you enjoy doing together so you can give your daughter the attention she wants and needs
    • Reserve special time to spend with your tween where she gets your undivided attention
  • Connect with your daughter’s interests 
    • Pre-teen girls love to talk about their interests with adults who are willing to listen
    • Learning about your daughter’s interests shows her you take her opinions seriously
    • Watch what they watch with them as well
      • This is a way to connect and discuss difficult subjects
      • You can also help your daughter recognize and understand how the media instills a gender code that tell kids what it “means” to be a boy or a girl and that they can be themselves and not what the media says they “should” be
  • Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations
    • Start conversations about sex, drinking, and drugs
    • Kids start to experiment with drugs and alcohol as early as age 9 or 10, and sexual development starts in the pre-teen years
    • Build a strong foundation for communication and provide them with the correct and developmentally appropriate information
      • Talk to your child’s pediatrician or a therapist if you need advice on how to broach these topics
  • Teach her about her brain and emotions
    • Preteen girls are able to understand how the changes in their brains and bodies could affect their moods and it can validate how they are feeling and also make them feel relieved some of their behavior is not their fault
    • It can also help girls and their parents take the moody behaviors less seriously when they occur