Not a child, not a teen. She’s a tween and along with these transitory years come a host of new challenges for your little one — and you — to overcome. These 10 tips will help you manage that fine balance.
Do you dread the tween years when your child is no longer the compliant six-year-old, but a teenager-wannabe? Or are you eagerly anticipating the maturing of your dependent child into a take-charge older kid who is more emotionally complex and fascinating? Either way, SingaporeMotherhood offers you 10 tips to navigate your child through the murky yet exciting waters of tween-hood.
1. Build a Strong Identity
“A clear sense of identity will help our tween make decisions and choices and to have a sense of agency,” writes Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, author of the book Talking to Tweens. Certainly a pre-requisite for the development of self-esteem, a clear sense of identity is directly responsible for the success of our children. When we encourage our eight- to twelve-year-olds to offer their opinions, we are helping them shape an identity for themselves. By telling them stories about the family, we offer them a family tree within which to shape their own narratives. Beyond the home, much can be done to help them define who they are in the wider world. For example, encourage them to be part of clubs or interest groups and be supportive of their choices.
2. Nurture Self-Esteem
It may not surprise you that young children are especially sensitive to what their parents think about them. But did you know that by the early age of eight, they will have become especially susceptible to the views and influence of others outside their families? If a child has low esteem, he or she will be more susceptible to negative emotions like depression, anxiety, shame, and anger. Some parents think that cultivating self-esteem means being responsible for their child’s happiness, even at the risk of indulging them. In actual fact, a healthy self-esteem is much more complex than that. According to the English Oxford Dictionary, the definition of self-esteem is a “confidence in one’s worth or abilities”. Self-esteem, thus, is tied closely with the notions of self-confidence, self-respect, and self-worth. Parents can help their children develop strong self-esteem by listening without judgement, while gently helping to shape their own points of view. We should also acknowledge what they are good at with honest and timely praise, while holding back our urge to criticize when they make mistakes.
3. Define Autonomy
While tweens are too young to handle complete freedom, slowly letting them manage themselves in limited and suitable ways will help them become more responsible teenagers. Start off by grouping tasks and decisions into these three categories: 1) those that are solely under your child’s control; 2) those they can have some control over; 3) those that are under the parents’ control.
Myreen Hoe, a mother to a girl and boy aged 10 and 14 respectively, emphasises to her children that freedom and independence come with an element of responsibility. “For example, when my daughter insists on walking home after school, I set the conditions that she must walk home with another friend and that she should not be listening to her music using her earphones while walking,” Myreen says. “She also has to text me when her bus reaches the bus stop.”
4. Plan Quality Family Time
While tweens may not seem to need their parents as much, it is still important to put aside time for them. These can be in the form of ordinary rituals, such as taking an evening stroll together, or simply being around one another while engaging in homework or reading. For special outings, tweens can be encouraged to take on the role of the organiser through simple tasks like researching about the venue on the web, choosing a lunch venue, or planning the route.
5. Manage Relationships between Siblings
Sibling rivalry is usually the result of vying for parents’ attention. How much do you, consciously or unconsciously, contribute to your children’s fights? Do you show favouritism? Whenever possible, try to take a step back and allow your children to come to a solution themselves. Set clear guidelines on what is or is not acceptable. More importantly, avoid jumping in and assigning blame.
6. Cope with Mass Media Influences
Tweens have become big business for advertisers and marketeers. Whether it is the latest music or fashion item, companies are openly exploiting our children’s need to fit in and be liked by their friends. One of the best things we can do to arm our children against this onslaught is to educate them about the manipulation tactics used by advertisers so that they can differentiate between wants and needs. When it comes to the mass media, a healthy dose of scepticism goes a long way.
7. Encourage Self-Discipline
Gone are the days when the threat of a Time Out will send your children scurrying into obedience mode. As your child transit into tween-hood, he or she will grow more judgemental towards our parenting techniques and start challenging our rules. It is at this time that we need to help them establish self-discipline so as to set them up for success later in life. “Children find it easier to exercise self-control when they have followed clear family and personal routines, been used to delaying pleasure and rewards, and have been encouraged to consider the possible impact of their behaviour,” writes Hartley-Brewer. Let us encourage our tweens to form positive habits, as well as to think ahead and reflect on the consequences of their actions and words.
8. Navigate the Perils of Friendship Together
Tween-hood is the time when children are keen to earn the acceptance of friends. It is also the time when tweens are more likely to seek out like-minded people with whom they can form a strong, even permanent, bond. Encourage friendships and avoid micro-managing your child’s relationships with others. At the same time, keep your antenna up for signs of bullying and excessive peer pressure.
9. Nurture Healthy Eating Habits
Never underestimate the benefits of eating together as a family. Family meals are not only a time to socialise and communicate, but also a chance to model good eating habits. Avoid battles over food as these can be counter-productive and trigger eating disorders. If your child is obese, do not put her on diets without professional advice.
10. Separate Yourself from Them
It is tempting to tack your self-identity to your growing child and take what they say and do personally. Remember, your tween is his or her own person. His success or failure is his or her to own, not yours. Refrain from being too critical about their mistakes and allow them room to experiment. Be positive and trust them to grow into a person you can be proud of.