Bet you are relieved that you (barely) survived the “terrible twos” and the even more fun “terrible threes”. And you probably thought you were in the clear after that. Nope. The real fun starts when your kids enter their tweens. The tantrum filled toddler years are actually quite similar to the tween years. Kids want to assert their independence about – well, everything and the most frequently heard word is “NO”! To a parent this can be physically, mentally, spiritually and existentially exhausting. But unlike disciplining a toddler, time outs aren’t exactly realistic when it comes to disciplining an 11-year-old, plus their grudges against you seem to last much, much longer.
While not every middle schooler struggles with the transition between childhood and adolescence, many do and the sooner you learn to communicate and work around the obstacles that come with it, the better. Here are some tips to parenting a tween without losing your mind:
1. Spend time with your tween
Set aside special one-on-one time with your teen once or twice a week, where you are providing undivided attention, an you aren’t working or texting at the same time. It’s often tough to get pre-teens to open up and talk and letting this one slide is a missed opportunity to let them know that you are listening and there for them. This is easy to overlook because your kids might be saying they don’t want it, but part of them will appreciate it and there are long term benefits to it.
2. Bite your tongue
You’ve made the time to talk with your teen. But the discussion will wind down the minute you go into “Here’s what I think of your friends” or “This is why I think you should try harder to get better grades”. Try not to dole out advice unless asked. When tempted, consider how many times you’ve already shared your opinion on that topic. Five times? Don’t repeat it; they knows where you stand. When you’re too quick to tell him what to do, they may feel judged and shut down.
3. Increase Responsibility
Tweens want to assert new independence as they begin their journey into adulthood. New chores will help boost their confidence and will give them the opportunity to prove to you that they are ready to handle this independence. Brainstorm responsibilities that you both think they might be able to handle, such as packing lunches, walking and feeding a dog, folding laundry, or cleaning their room….without being reminded to do so! Praise their effort—not the end result. They aren’t going to put away their clean clothes as neatly as you would, at least at first, but the point isn’t perfection, it’s responsibility building.
If your child suggests a task that isn’t safe for kids their age – like using sharp knives to help with a recipe – don’t dismiss his idea with “you’re not old enough yet.” Instead, tell him them why the task is unsafe and when the two of you can revisit the topic.
4. Acknowledge the hormones
Your preteen’s body is changing, creating irritability, mood swings, distractibility, competitiveness, and preoccupation with the opposite sex. What’s more, their brains are undergoing an extensive re-wiring, which can make them emotionally volatile. Tweens can even find themselves in a full-on meltdown without understanding why it happened. Calmly explain to your tween that you see how upset they are and you want to give them time to pull themselves together before you discuss whatever the trigger is. Ask them if they want you to stay, or to leave the room. When things calm down, give them a big hug, and really listen to what they have to say. Even if you can’t agree with their position, acknowledge your child’s perspective, and work to find a common solution.
5. Help Them Manage Their Time Wisely
Teach them how to prioritize time and to-do lists and how to manage their time wisely. Spending time with their peers is important to them. Do not take this away from them. Use this to introduce the concept of time management to your tween. For instance, offer him incentives or rewards, like hosting a sleepover or movie night, when they get good grades at school.
6. Don’t take it personally
When your tween tells you they hate you, don’t over-react. When they hurt your feelings and you’re tempted to withdraw, take a deep breath and stand your ground calmly. That doesn’t mean you don’t kindly demand respect, and it doesn’t mean you can’t use strategic withdrawals as a chance to regroup, but that you continue to reinforce your love for and connection to your child. Your best way to get your tween to act respectfully towards you is to extend respect to them, and to calmly expect it in return.
More About Tweens and Teens:
- Best Gifts for Teens and Tweens
- 5 Tips to Make Parenting Your Teen Easier
- 16 Crafts for Teens What Will Make Them Forget About Their Phones
Tween friendships can be intense. One day your daughter is making a friendship bracelet for her BFF, the next day they aren’t speaking. Or your son and his buddy were inseparable until one joined the basketball team and the other the science club. As your tween grows, he or she will use friendships to gauge his or her place in the world. But just know you may have to deal with possible bad influences. So, try to get to know your tween’s friends. Invite them over and get to know their families. Just know that who’s who in your child’s circle can change at a moment’s notice.