Years ago, before I ever had children, I read an article titled, The Cat Years by Adair Lara. It talked about how the teenage years change kids from “loyal and affectionate” dogs to aloof and capricious cats. It explained that what we think of as teenager problems, are really just part of the transition from child to adult. Now that my kids are teenagers, I am definitely in the cat years.
So here’s what to expect during the cat years, and how to get through them with your relationship with your children intact.
Expect them to pull away.
While it might make us feel good to have our children remain attached to us, developmentally they need to pull away and become independent. So when your teens are less than enthused for a family night, or when they cringe when you sit close to them, remind yourself that it’s normal teenage behavior. On the other hand, if your child isn’t showing signs of growing independence, here are five ways to build their independence.
Let’s go back to the cat and dog analogy. Dogs are playful and crave and welcome engagement, cats usually don’t. So, when your teenager/cat starts to pull back, adjust your parenting tactics. Don’t panic and crowd him because, just like a cat, he’ll freak out and run away and hide to get away from you. Try not to ask a million questions or give him tons of advice. Remember, he’s subconsciously working on growing more independent. Once he’s achieved that level of separation he’ll come back to you.
Keep offering love and care.
Your teenager might think she doesn’t need you anymore, but she does. Try not to take the attitude of, “Okay! If you’re going to have an attitude with me and push me away, I’ll pull away from you. You’re on your own!”
Your child still needs your love. Hug her, but choose the times to be affectionate carefully. Don’t put her in embarrassing situations, even if the setting seems harmless to you. Tell your teenagers you love them, in private, even if they pull back. Offer them kindness even when they’re not particularly lovable. Be there for your child and don’t reprimand her for being aloof.
Don’t treat them like a child.
When your teenager messes up, be kind in your correction. Instead of, “Ethan, I knew you would oversleep and miss swim practice. But I let you because you said you could handle it… but you didn’t! You are irresponsible!” Try this instead: “Ethan, I’m sorry things didn’t work out this morning for you to make practice. How are you going to handle it?”
It’s okay to acknowledge missteps, but we don’t want to make our children feel like something’s wrong with them. Let them know that you understand these years are part of their learning process and that you don’t expect them to be perfect. I try to remember that my children are transitioning into adults and that belittling them will only make them feel uncomfortable and inadequate for the process.
It’s okay to acknowledge missteps, but we don’t want to make our children feel like something’s wrong with them.
Finally, I like the way The Cat Years piece ends…
“One day, your grown-up child will walk into the kitchen, give you a big kiss and say, ‘You’ve been on your feet all day. Let me get those dishes for you.’ Then you will realize your cat is a dog again.”
So hang in there during the cat years. And for more help with the teen years, iMOM has a great section of tips and encouragement for parenting during the teen years.
Tell us! What is your advice for how to get through the teenager problems of the cat years?