You mustered through diapers and potty training. You outlasted the "terrible twos." And it was all worth it -- the past decade with your child has been fun, exciting and full of precious bonding experiences.
Then one morning, a different person comes down to breakfast. He or she looks like your child; he or she sounds like your child; but he or she acts like a stranger. Suddenly, everything you used to enjoy together is lame. Your usually sweet kid disses you privately and publicly. Your formerly open child sees questions about the day as suspicious intrusions. Your cheerful cherub is rude and sullen, shutting you out of his or her life, thoughts and room.
Welcome to the tween years. Your child is taking the first steps on the long, confusing road from childhood dependence to adult independence. Tweens are suddenly experiencing explosive changes in appearance, brain function and emotions -- and you're in for some changes, too.
You've probably noticed your child's physical changes. What's going on inside your tween's brain is even more dramatic. Your child may say or do things that make you think he's losing his mind. Actually, tweens are only losing part of it. About half of the frontal cortex, to be specific.
Around age 11 or 12, the frontal cortex of the brain begins a dramatic reorganizing process. Tweens build thousands of new synapse connections every day, shedding masses of underused ones. Thinking gives way to feeling as brain function shifts from the construction zone to the amygdala, which is the emotional center of the brain. Judgment and rational decision-making fly out the window. Emotion rules.
These physical, mental and emotional disruptions can have a profound effect on your relationship with your tween. See how on the next page.