11 Things I Have Learned About Parenting Tweens

You might have noticed that there are lots of articles and memes about younger kids and teenagers, but not tweens. That’s because those of us who have tweens are too busy trying to keep upright to be able to string cohesive sentences together about what is even happening. Yes, all kids are always changing, but generally speaking, there is a transition in one direction: bigger/older. Somehow during the tween years, they manage to go sideways? Maybe they have Deloreans or Time-Turner necklaces we don’t know about? And it’s exhausting work. I am often befuddled and looking behind myself with a curious expression. I mean, I love it? But I’m also tired?

One moment we have littles. Then we have thoughtful older kids. Then they crawl into our laps. Then they have feelings about someone. Like, feelings-feelings (!!!). Then they get upset they lost their favorite stuffed animal. Then we walk in on them painting a sign and they ask if we can take them to march in a local protest. Then they spend a day watching cartoons. Then they roll their eyes at us when we go to walk near them at the mall, and they ditch us to be with their friends who look more grown up then we do. It’s always changing, so we’re always learning. So let me take a quick breath to drop a few things I’ve learned that might help out a few of you who are suffering from new-tween whiplash. Because I promise you, the tween years can be tricky, but it’s also pretty awesome.

1. You’ll want to do things for them because you know they’ll pull away soon (oh my heaaarrrt), but you need to let them do it on their own to get in the habit of being independent.

2. When they get mad and yell it’s 99% likely not about you, but you’re gonna feel the wrath anyway. You’re their own personal safety net to catch all the things they need to let out, then toss aside so they don’t have to look at or feel anymore. Once that yuck is in your possession, they can take a breath, the weight gone. Momentum might make it easy to pick up an argument in that moment: don’t let it happen. Take your own moment if you need to.

3. When they say they “need” something, they actually want it, and vice-versa. Either way, it’s important to them, so maybe open a dialogue with them about what they can do to earn the money to get it, even if the thing seems silly or frivolous to you (ie, VCSO Girl Puka shell necklaces, and the like).

4. Every so often, being brutally straightforward during a private conversation can be much more helpful to them than using well-intentioned tact. You might feel like you’re being an a**hole, but an emotionally tumultuous kid sometimes needs the real information directly to the teeth. They’ll thank you later, especially if it’s something they genuinely need an intervention on (think: personal hygiene or behavior that is losing them friendships).

5. Some of them Love. To. Craft. (ZOMG DO THEY LOVE TO CRAFT) even if their parents do not. Yes, it’s messy, but it’s relaxing, cathartic. Let them glue gun as much as necessary. These are hormonal, homeworky times: they need the catharsis. If they aren’t crafters? Find whatever messy, relaxing thing works for them and let ’em at it.

6. You won’t know all the answers to stuff that comes up, so look them up together. Your humility earns their respect.

7. It’s okay to blow everything off just to have some time together. Sometimes it’s best to skip a day intended for chores and projects, and instead take off for the bowling alley, hit up a new place to eat, or hibernate in front of the TV together for hours and hours (without touching a phone in their presence). This “doing nothing much” time is banked together time that they appreciate. This time together with my kids has opened the door to lots of important conversations. Speaking of which…

8. The most important conversations happen with no notice and often at inconvenient times. Hit pause on everything and give them your undivided attention. Sure, you’d rather save it for later when you had more time to think or weren’t in public or had the other parent/someone else with you, but the moment is now: grab it.

9. Two-way trust “contracts” with them can make everyone feel safer. Whether they be for cell phones or sleepovers or whatever you want them for, go ahead and make them. It’s a way of communicating feelings and promises in writing, which is something a kid can hold onto even when they aren’t at home.

10. This is the ideal travel age, which can make a wonderful, worldly impression on them. They’re mobile and opinionated, so get them involved in the decision-making! My husband and I told our kids where we wanted to go this summer, then let them pick the cities. They did some great research, and when we hit the ground, were genuinely interested in all the sight-seeing, making it the best family trip we’ve yet to take.

11. They’re always listening, even when they’re not looking you in the eye (so are their friends), so choose how you speak to yourself and others around them wisely. Trust me.

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