Ages and Stages: Finding Calm With Your Turbulent Tween

by Angela Pruess November 23, 2016

girl skating on a road

Most parents are told to expect a heap of challenges from their teenagers, but not everyone talks about the turbulence of the pre-teen years.

We should, though. The pre-adolescent years (between the ages of nine and 12) are chock full of amazing developmental changes for your child; cognitive, physical, and emotional. The volume and velocity of these changes can leave us wondering, Who took my sweet child and replaced her with a angry gremlin? It can be a scary and confusing time, for both you and your child, but have no fear, there is much hope for the both of you.

Let’s dissect six of the most distressing dilemmas parents face during the tween years, and how to handle them with confidence.

Your tween pulls away from you

Just last week your daughter couldn’t wait to download the day's’ events over an after-school snack, but this week she’s insisting, “I just want to eat in quiet, mom!” She wants to spend more time interacting with her friends and less time playing Uno Attack with the family. The pull toward her peers is the next natural step for your child as she strives to achieve independence.

No matter how many times they roll their eyes or let out an exasperated, “Moooom!” you're tween still needs a strong and loving connection with you. This doesn’t mean suffocating them with interrogation-style questions, but paying attention to their interests and creating meaningful time for connection based on these things.

Now is also a the perfect time to become a better listener (which automatically means less talking, as well). Continuing to provide strong roots for your tween will give him the confidence and security he needs to take bold new steps towards independence.

Your tween appears to be on an emotional roller coaster with no end in sight

It’s time for a truth bomb, and, warning, it may smell like body odor. Your child is likely in the beginning stages of puberty. The hormones are flowing and there is enormous brain development happening. Due to the prolific development and construction of your tween’s prefrontal cortex (the area responsible for logic, reason, and self-regulation) your child is often unable to regulate his own emotions (despite experiencing them more intensely).

While it's all too easy to jump on board the emotional roller coaster alongside them, go get a funnel cake instead. When triggered, make note of negative thoughts likely occurring from your past, or fears about your child's future, and don’t let them derail you from remaining the calm, level-headed adult that you are. Your tween desperately needs parents who model self-control and emotional regulation.

Your tween is fascinated with fads

No, your tween doesn’t have an onset of mid-winter allergies, just partaking in some "dabbing." Due to major meta-cognitive advancements in thinking, your tween is now aware of the thoughts and ideas of others as well as themselves. Because of this, they are increasingly in tune with their peers and social surroundings. They're also realizing that there are endless new ideas and avenues to pursue, and possibly, that they’d like to try each of them.

As long as your tween's fad is appropriate, roll with it. Although it may feel like a stretch to show consistent respect to someone who has purple tipped hair, giving them space to explore creatively and modeling respect will go far to support their emotional well-being. After all, even though your tween acts repulsed by your knock-knock joke, they still crave your acceptance and approval, which is totally savage.

Your tween shuts down

Often times the changes happening in your tween's brain and body are coming faster than they're able to adjust. As one might imagine, this leaves them feeling insecure and overwhelmed. Girls and boys are both becoming more aware of cultural expectations for better or worse (in most cases its worse). When your tweens go silent, it can be worrisome and confusing, but some communication basics can get you through.

Your child still desperately needs to hear your voice, opinions, and values, so keep the lines of communication open. Respect your tween's request for some space, while prompting them to let you know when they’re ready to talk. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and send the message that no topic is off limits.

Here’s the big one: always, always, display love and acceptance of them as an individual (clearly not always of the behavior). If they feel they will be judged or criticized harshly, they'll likely shut down further.

If talking is like pulling teeth, there are other avenues of communication to explore at this age as well, such as collaborative journaling.

Your tween seems to lose perspective

Intense preoccupation with peers and fitting in may seem to cause your tween to focus more on themselves and less on those around them. Even though it may not seem that way at times, take heed, your tween still has the heart and capacity for "bigger" things.

It may not always be their first choice, but take them outside their box. Parents can provide their tweens with the type of experiences that will encourage wide-view thinking and help offer them diverse perspectives. Whether it be volunteering at your church or going hiking in a new place, new experiences and adventure will go far to stretch your child’s sense of self and worldview.

Your tween is navigating mature subject matter

Like it or not your child will soon be hearing and encountering subjects such as sex, social media accounts, and first periods. We can try to deny these things, but if our kids aren’t hearing about the tough stuff from us they'll likely turn to peers or the internet, both sources of copious amounts of misinformation.

Luckily you've already created open, honest lines of communication with your tween which will make these challenging conversations much easier.

Step up and take the lead and don’t worry – you’ve got this. Take some time beforehand to gather your thoughts and values in relation to the subject matter at hand. With confidence, and respectful authority, make these clear to your tween, also leaving space for their thoughts and opinions on the matter. If your tween feels heard and validated, they will swallow the "no Facebook account until you're 13" pill much easier.

Turns out our preteens aren’t as scary as they seem

Your child’s middle school years are a time of great transition and growth. With a strong connection to your child, tweenhood will not prove to be your greatest enemy. Now that you understand a little more about the mental and physical process of being a tween, you can trust in it – and your child. Remember that even though they don’t look (or smell) like it, this is the same child who was running around in footie pajamas just yesterday. With confidence, love, and lots of respectful guidance, you might just be Snapchatting your way through the tweenage years with ease.

Angela Pruess


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