Watching your child grow up is beautiful but it can also be tough, especially if they are tweens. You have to (seemingly) sail through the changes that they go through – emo phases, mood swings, and puberty. You also have to ensure that your tween (aged 9-12 years) has the right values instilled, so that they will be less likely to go astray when they are teenagers.
But as tweens grapple with physical, emotional, and social changes, your once-needy child might not want to have anything to do with you. That hurts. Still, bear in mind: while this might be difficult for you, it seems overwhelming for them.
“My talkative daughter started getting moody around age 11,” says Shanti Menon. “The immediate reaction was to keep shouting, ‘why are you so moody?’ but we soon realised that it was the wrong approach.”
Sounds familiar? Don’t worry, you are not alone. The twists and turns of tween-hood can be confusing. Let the experts help.
1. Navigate the Changes Together
It’s a difficult time for all as your child’s needs and behaviour go through rapid changes throughout their tween years. What helps is if you go through this phase together with them. Tweens’ needs can differ greatly. Some may still behave like young children, while others display teenage behaviour, says Gisela Guttmann, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst at Alliance Counselling.
This phase, she says, is the beginning of the “freedom with a responsibility-learning curve”. While parents remain a pivotal reference model, tweens are gravitating more towards their peers and acquiring their own identity. “This is a ‘pull and push’ process that both parents and tweens have to learn to navigate together,” she says.
2. Engage your Tweens
The tween years are a time of transition and change. You child is maturing into a teenager physically, emotionally and socially. This may be accompanied by mood swings, insecurities and heightened self consciousness. Thus, it is important for you to make the effort to actively engage your tween, says Jeff Cheong, a Families for Life council member.
How to do this? Firstly, set aside special time with your child. As your child develops strong friendships and builds their independence, it is important to maintain a strong parent-child bond. Hence, prioritise and set aside time to spend with your child.
Secondly, create a safe space for them to talk about their concerns. “Hear them out and keep an open mind about what they are sharing,” says Cheong. “Share your experiences but realise and accept that times have changed. Do not attempt to compare them with what you were like when you were their age.”
Also, respect their personal space. Resist the urge to control them, for example, in their interests or hobbies. Supporting your child means knowing when to take a step back so that they can pursue their interests.
Finally, be an active parent. Equip yourself with the knowledge and skills to better understand and communicate with your tweens. Attend talks and workshops on parenting.
“Through active parenting, you can help your tween grow with positive values, especially when you start at an early stage,” Cheong explains. “This influential role that parents play helps impart positive changes on the child, and also strengthens family relationships.”
3. Help them Understand Puberty
Being in the transitional phase between the child world and the teen/youth world, it’s also a time when both parents and tweens are coming to terms with the ‘loss’ of their child identity.
“Young girls, even more often than boys, will struggle with their self-image during these years. If your tween feels awkward about their body, it is absolutely normal, and in most cases just temporary,” says Guttmann.
Even though tweens do have some type of education at school about puberty, parents can support them by asking about what they learned. And, whenever they are confident and comfortable, parents should add information about physical and mental changes.
“It can be reassuring to a child to understand that mood swings are to be expected due to hormonal changes,” adds Guttmann.
4. Set Ground Rules
Parents should be aware of what their tweens are up to and the friends they are hanging out with, but this can be a tricky path to cross with kids this age. Guttmann reveals that, if a tween feels that they have zero privacy, they might be more reluctant to share information with parents which, in turn, could prompt parents to become over vigilant about their tweens, and that mistrust only snowballs.
Therefore, parents should explain that they have concerns about their safety and wellbeing and agree on some basic ground rules. Within reason, every family should try to work on mutual trust. It is perfectly fine for a parent to show interest in their tween and to ask questions about their social groups and activities and to have reasonable boundaries in place.
(See also: Let Go of your Baby; Welcome your Tween)
5. Give them their Independence
It can be hard to let go but it’s important to start giving your tween some sort of independence as this gives them confidence too.
“Within reason, gradually allow your tweens to become more confident and independent as long as they show that they are safe and responsible and that they can handle age-appropriate independence,” Guttman advises.
“This is what I call freedom with responsibility and good boundaries that can function as a safety net for the tweens too.”
Being too strict with your tweens may deprive them of learning from their own experiences or from learning to make choices. The other extreme would be parents who are too permissive, and their children may be exposed to age-inappropriate risks.
As your child gets older and seeks greater independence, consider involving them in setting rules and boundaries. Cheong explains that parents should not just lay down the rules without any discussion. Instead, involve them in the process as much as possible as this lets them know they have a voice and their needs are being heard. It helps them weigh the pros and cons of the situation and allows them to work things out with parents.
6. Be a Good Listener
It can be hard to deal with the fact that your child is becoming more secretive. In addition, it’s not as easy to find out what they’re up to. Spending quality time together and building a strong bond with your tween will ease the communication barrier. Consequently you will be able to discover more about what they have been doing with their friends, in school and more. Be a good listener, and encourage them to talk about anything and everything.
“Don’t miss the opportunity to let your tween know that you are a good listener,” Cheong shares. “Show that you are interested when they talk about the latest video games or repeat to you the jokes that their classmates told them that day. You will find your efforts paying off one day when they take the initiative to come to you to share. To keep the conversation going, you can also consider sharing details of your day with them.”
7. Talk about ‘Sensitive’ Topics
Parents are a child’s best teachers. Through engaging tweens in open and honest discussions, parents can demonstrate love, support, interest, pride and confidence in them. This includes not being afraid to talk about sensitive topics such as relationships, sex, and alcohol.
The key is to not be judgemental, says Cheong. This is a delicate stage for tweens as they figure out right from wrong. Mistakes are inevitable and parents have the important role of guiding them.
So if your child asks your opinion on a sensitive topic, listen, empathise, and view the situation from their perspective. This will encourage more understanding, and let your child open up to you more.
(See also: 10 Ways to Help your Child Transit to Tweenhood)
8. Pick the right discipline method for tweens
It gets harder to discipline tweens as they are starting to find a voice of their own. This may sometimes lead to rebellious behaviour because they want to test boundaries.
Cheong says parents should avoid making top-down directives and harsh punishments. These could send the message that they disapprove of their children’s choices.
Instead of focusing on their choices, opt for consequence-based discipline techniques, and allow your children leeway for independence to learn what’s right and wrong.
- Talk about logical and natural consequences and explain to them what consequences their actions are tied to
- Stay calm and composed as this can provide a sense of comfort and stability for children
- Show respect and make time to listen to them when they have something to say. Avoid harsh criticism, blame and sarcasm
- Don’t set too many or unclear rules as this may cause children to lose sight of the more crucial ones
- Don’t be overprotective as this shields your tweens from disappointment and failure. For example, if they are lagging behind their school assignments, let them be prepared to face the music. When children are over-protected, it is harder for them to see the relationship between their choices and the consequences.
#IRL: How do Singaporean Parents deal with their Tweens?
Joanne Lim, 38, whose eldest son turns 10 this year, has noticed that he has become more vocal about his frustrations, He also feels that he is being treated unfairly compared to his two younger brothers.
“His tone is more defensive. When he makes a rebuttal, he’ll cite various examples or past incidents to defend himself. All this is coupled with hand-waving and gesturing so visually, you’ll see a little human arguing with you,” she says.
Even though his temper is generally quite mild and his mood swings are not frequent, he acts up when his brothers cause him to get scolded.
“Depending on the context, on rare occasions, I will let his frustrated behaviour slide. Otherwise, I’ll use a very firm tone to stop him and give a mini lecture, ending off with an explanation as to why his reactions were uncalled for. Lastly, I end off with a hug and tell him I love him.”
“I try to show him alternative ways to handle situations. This is to avoid escalating negative emotions like shouting back to his brother or being rough in order to take back his toys,” she shares. “As he grows older, he is beginning to display the ability to soothe the situation when his younger brothers fight. I’ll task him to break the fight so he feels a sense of achievement when the younger ones stop fighting.”
Shanti Menon, 45, remembers the days her now-16-year-old daughter went through a difficult phase as a tween.
“My daughter was always talkative but started getting moody around age 11. We found this hard to deal with it,” she explains. “The immediate reaction was to keep shouting at her, ‘why are you so moody?’ but we soon realised that this was the wrong approach.
“I set aside alone time with her so we could keep having chats like we used to. Even though she complained sometimes, she went along with it and slowly started opening up and talking about her friends and what was happening in school.
“This time together really helped. Even though she still had mood swings – and wasn’t always her usual chatty self – I learnt not to react negatively. This improved our relationship.”
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