When our children hit those tween years, many of us parents can feel like we may need to duck for cover! While this age bracket can be challenging from a mum and dad’s perspective, it can also be a tricky time of development and growth for our kids. Here are some helpful tips for navigating those tween years without losing your cool in the process.
Communicate clearly and often
“Often, our young people will want to talk about their day, their thoughts, troubles and issues, so it’s important that you take the time to stop what you are doing if possible and allow your child to talk to you,” says parenting expert and teacher Sharon Witt. “Use eye contact and acknowledge that you understand what your child is explaining to you. Be faithful in keeping the lines of communication in the tween years — and they will be more likely to keep the conversations happening when they hit teenage-hood.”
Acknowledge your child’s feelings
When our children enter those tricky years before becoming a teenager, they can experience a whole range of different feelings and emotions. “Many tweens find that friendship issues consume a lot of their time, particularly girls,” explains Witt, who is also the author of the Girl Wise books, A guide to being you and A girl’s guide to friends. “If your tween is expressing distress over a friendship issue, acknowledge that it must be difficult for them. Simply saying that ‘They have plenty of other friends’ doesn’t help the situation. Instead, use phrases such as ‘That must be an awful feeling to be left out’ or ‘It doesn’t seem very fair does it?'”
Teach them about actions and consequences
“Our children need to learn this from an early age, but maintaining this lesson is a good one,” Witt says. “As our children enter those later primary school years, they may, for example, choose not to complete a piece of homework. We need to allow our children to make these decisions, and at the same time help them to understand that while they always have a choice, they will also have to accept consequences in life, both good and bad.”
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Children thrive on praise — but only when it is warranted. “Simply praising our tweens for every minor event can become monotonous and children see through this anyway,” Witt clarifies. “But tweens thrive on feeling valued and worthwhile — don’t we all? During these years when they can begin to struggle with their identity, friendships and learning, it is great to be able to provide encouragement. Attend their sporting events, comment when they tidy their room without you asking. Even leave them encouraging notes!”
Offer one-on-one time!
Most, if not all, children respond positively to having one-on-one time with their parents. “It is time just for them, when you can do something enjoyable together, such as having an afternoon tea date, shopping or doing craft together. This also can open up opportunities for communication,” she says.
“Our children need us to demonstrate consistency, at all times if possible,” Witt explains. “If we follow through on what we say and the expectations we place on our tweens, they will feel secure. No matter how much we are tested — and we will be at times — remain consistent.”
Anticipate hormonal changes
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not so much the teenage years that impact our children’s hormones: Often the process of puberty and changes to the body and brain occur well before then, in middle to upper primary school years. “Those dreaded hormones have a lot to answer for,” Witt says, “so be aware that tiredness, increased irritability and heightened emotions can often be attributed to the hormonal changes our child may be experiencing.”
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Remember: Sleep matters
“Our young people require a minimum of 8–10 hours sleep per night to function properly at school and to allow their body to repair and grow while they rest,” Witt says. “Ensure your child is in a healthy sleep routine and hopefully this will continue into their teen years.”
Much like us, our children’s lives can get crazily busy. “Many children are enrolled in several classes during one single week, including music, dance and sporting lessons, not to mention other social activities,” Witt says. “As parents, it’s vital that we schedule in times of rest and relaxation for our tweens. It’s important that everyone has some downtime, even parents! Ensure that at least two evenings per week are left free to rest.”
Maintain a sense of humour
Parenting your tween child can be a journey. They are not yet a teenager, however, in many instances, they may want to be at that stage, like, yesterday! “Our children will test us, fight and perhaps be demanding at times — but they are also human! They are navigating these years as best they know how,” Witt says. “As parents, a sense of humour can only be of great benefit. Difficult situations can often be dissolved through humour. Watch comedy movies together and laugh together regularly.”
More parenting tips
Establish helpful habits: Assigning chores to kids
What to do when your teenager wants to date
Carving out quality time with your kids