You blinked and gone is the happy, easy going child that just a few months ago still wanted your approval and needed your input in their decisions. Just when you thought you still had a few years to prepare for the turmoil of the teenage years, it arrives on your doorstep all too soon. Looking back at you now is a blossoming human being, able to brilliantly argue their point of view, yet still makes foolish decisions. Today’s preteens, children aged between 9 and 11 years, often shock parents when they already begin to act like teenagers.
It’s a magical time in our children’s lives, but like all huge transitions, they’re filled with ups and downs. Similar to parenting toddlers, parents who don’t accept and constructively negotiate their child’s growing independence invite rebellion, or even worse, deception.
The biggest danger for tweens is losing the connection to parents while struggling to find their place and connect with peers. The biggest danger for parents is trying to control their children and parent through power instead of through relationship, thus breaking down their bond and losing their influence on their child as they move into the teen years.
Your child is starting to show strong feelings and their moods might seem unpredictable. These emotional ups and downs can lead to increased conflict and this is partly because your child’s brain is still learning how to control and express emotions in a grown-up way.
At the same time, your child might be more sensitive to your emotions. But while they’re getting better at understanding other people’s emotions, they might sometimes misread facial expressions or body language. So they might react in unexpected ways, over reacting to something you say or the way you look at them.
Your child is also likely to be more self-conscious, especially about their physical appearance and changes. Adolescent self-esteem is often affected by appearance, or by how children think they look. As your child develops, they might compare their body with those of their friends and peers.
And your child might go through a stage of acting without thinking. Your child’s decision-making skills are still developing, and they’re still learning that actions have consequences and sometimes even risks.
Changes in pre-teen relationships
Your child’s relationships with family and friends will undergo dramatic changes and shifts. But maintaining strong relationships with both family and friends is important for healthy social and emotional development.
You might notice that your child wants to spend less time with family and more time with their friends and peers. Your child’s friends are more likely to influence their short-term choices, like appearance and interests. Your influence is important on your child’s long-term decisions, like choices about career choices, values and morals.
There might be more arguments with you. Some conflict during these years is normal, as children seek more independence and it actually shows that your child is maturing. Conflict tends to peak in early adolescence but even if you feel like you’re arguing with your child all the time, it isn’t likely to affect your relationship with them in the long run.
It might seem like your child sees things differently from you now but this isn’t because they want to upset you. It’s because they’re starting to think more abstractly, and are questioning different points of view. At the same time, some children find it difficult to understand how their words and actions affect other people but this will probably change with time.
Through all of this, a strong relationship with you is an important foundation for building your child’s resilience.
Following are some things you, as a parent, can do to help your child during this time:
- Quality time is important. Talk with them about their friends, their accomplishments, and what challenges they are likely to face.
- Be involved with school when they reopen. Go to school events; meet your child’s teachers. Encourage your child to join school and community groups, such as a sports team, or to be a volunteer for a charity.
- Help your child develop their own sense of right and wrong. Talk to them about risky peer pressure and things their friends might try and convince them to do.
- Help your child develop a sense of responsibility—involve them in household tasks like cleaning and cooking and talk to your child about saving and spending money wisely.
- Make time to know the families of your child’s friends.
- Talk to your child about the importance of respecting others. Encourage them to help people in need and what to do when others are not kind or are disrespectful.
- Help your child set goals. Encourage them to think about skills and abilities they would like to have and about how to develop them.
- Make clear rules and stick to them. Talk to your child about what you expect from them (behaviour) when no adults are present. If you provide reasons for rules, it will help them to know what to do in most situations.
- Use discipline to guide and protect your child, rather than punishment that can cause low self esteem.
- When using praise, help your child think about their own accomplishments. Saying “you must be proud of yourself” rather than simply “I’m proud of you” can encourage your child to make good choices when nobody is around to praise them.
- Talk to your child about the normal physical and emotional changes of puberty.
- Encourage your child to read every day.
- Be affectionate and honest with your child, and do things together as a family.