You finish up your conversation with the shop clerk and reach for your 10-year-old's hand. He yanks it out of your grasp and whines, "Mom, you're embarrassing me!" In your mind, you've acted perfectly normal. You've had a conversation, and now you want to take your boy's hand. What happened? Oh, that's right. Your son's a tween.
Ah, the tween years. One day your children love being with you, the next they're embarrassed because you talked to a woman in a shop. What's happening to your child, and why are you suddenly the bad guy?
If you've got an 8- to 12-year old, you've got a tween. Once thought to be not as crucial as early development or adolescence, this period is actually a pretty important time in your child's life. During the tween years, your child is starting to create his own identity. He's forging his own friendships, and he's starting to learn that maybe parents don't have the answers for everything.
Now that your child is growing older, he doesn't want to be treated like a baby. This can be a difficult transition not only for your child, but also for you. You're used to taking care of all of his needs, but now that he's able to do more things on his own, he wants to take control of his life. He also still wants your love and attention, and it can be a struggle for him to figure out how to balance the two.
Beyond learning how to express themselves emotionally, tweens are also learning more challenging things at school and starting to work on more involved projects that require learning time management. Taking on tougher homework may be a difficult struggle for many tweens.
As the onset of puberty hits, ever-changing hormones that can cause abrupt changes in behavior might be driving you crazy, and it's tough to keep in mind that your tween is also trying to figure out what is happening to his body, too. Your child may feel embarrassed by these changes and decide to take any frustrations out on you.
Let's take a look at your behavior and see what you can do to help your child through this transitional stage.
Act Like a Parent
First off, the biggest thing to remember is that the word "parent" doesn't necessarily mean "friend." It's only natural that you'll feel the pull to be your child's friend. Now that he's older and understand more, you can start having real conversations with your tween. However, just because you can talk to each other on a different level doesn't mean that you're not still a parent. Your child still needs rules and boundaries, and you're the one who needs to guide the way and enforce those rules.
Remember what it was like to be a tween, and that may help you understand what your child is going through. Hormonal surges may leave a tween moody and sensitive, and if that's happening, try to see where he's coming from.
Figure out a way to start conversation and get him to open up to you a bit more. This may take a little practice to master, because you'll have to figure out what to say to get your child to talk. During this stage, it can take tweens some time to process their emotions and be able to discuss them. Sometimes you need to ask specific questions that will help them sort through their emotions. Other times, it may be better to let them spend some time alone so they can understand their feelings on their own.
Remember, your tween wants to be independent, but he's still looking for acceptance. While your acceptance is crucial, he also looks to his peer group for approval. Older tweens especially may feel a lot of pressure to fit in with the crowd. That's where you come in. Let them express themselves and explore who they want to be, but also keep and enforce some boundaries so that they understand their limits.
Give Them Some Space
These are the years that your child starts forming what sort of person he'll be when he grows up. It's important to remember that all people are different, so give your kid the opportunity to explore and figure out his passions in life.
This requires giving them a little bit of space. And you not only want to give them space to wear different clothes or try new activities, but you should also give them a little privacy. Your son may suddenly put a "Keep Out" sign on her door. He's just looking for a little space to figure out who he is.
Because so much is changing, your child may feel embarrassed and won't want to talk about what's going on in his life. It's important to stay connected to your child, though, and make sure he feels comfortable opening up to you. Try different ways of communicating with him. You don't always have to have a big conversation. Suggest doing a game or activity your child will like, and by doing that you may have the opportunity to have meaningful conversations.
When you get your child to open up to you, you should also try to respect his privacy. Don't go blabbing his problems to your friends, or even worse, his friends. You've also violated his trust, which will make further communication difficult.
Also, keep in mind that your tween doesn't feel like a baby anymore, and he doesn't want to be treated like one, either. This can be difficult for a parent because your son may suddenly stop showering you with affection like he used to. Don't try to embarrass him by being super-affectionate. Just be there for when he'll need a hug or back rub.
Sure, these years may seem long, especially when you know the teen years are right behind them. However, if you instill good values in your tween during childhood, these values will return in adulthood.
- Hartley-Brewer, Elizabeth. "Tween: Almost Grown Up. May 2010. (May 7, 2010) http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3753978
- Hayes, Eileen. "From Sweetheart to Monster - Understanding your Tween." Feb. 26, 2007. (May 7, 2010) http://www.supernanny.co.uk/Advice/-/Parenting-Skills/-/Discipline-and-Reward/From-sweetheart-to-monster-~-understanding-your-tween.aspx
- Miles, Karen. "Tweens: The New Toddlers." Parenting. (May 7, 2010) http://www.parenting.com/article/Child/Development/Tweens-The-New-Toddlers
- Sonna, Linda. "The Everything Tween Book." Adams Media Corporation. 2003.
- Tilsner, Julie. "Dealing With a Drama Tween." Parenting. (May 7, 2010) http://www.parenting.com/article/Child/Behavior/Dealing-With-a-Drama-Tween