As I try to console my weepy 10-year-old daughter, I suddenly realize where we are. We have landed in the tricky tween years. Since she is the youngest of four in a busy household, I completely overlooked the passage of time. She is after all, my baby, but there is no stopping this train. She is growing up.
Scientists used to believe that the brain stopped growing at age two. Now, through advanced medical imaging techniques, it is known that the brain enters a large growth spurt around age twelve that continues through the early to mid twenties.
Changes are on the horizon, not only physical changes, but changes in moods, thinking, behaviors and interests. Acknowledging this inevitable leap is a good first step for parents, and the tweens themselves. You cannot stop this process, nor can you speed it up, so prepare for the long haul.
Decrease the drama
Be sure your boundaries are securely in place. The tween years are no time for wishy-washy parenting methods. Know where you draw the line on behaviors and be prepared to follow-through, every time. It may seem like the drama increases as they fight against rules, but consistent follow-through will ultimately stop unnecessary battles.
Develop decision making skills
Tweens are ready to accept bigger responsibilities. Let them make choices and have a say in family projects. This is also a good time to teach them to take a step back and think before reacting. Remind them that asking for guidance is completely acceptable. Let them watch you make decisions on your purchases and activities. Making good decisions is something that takes practice and what better time to practice than when the part of the brain responsible for abstract thinking is developing.
Deal with people
Parents should focus on building a strong relationship at this crucial time. Your child needs you, even if they are pushing you away. One common problem tweens suddenly have is misinterpreting facial expressions and tones. My daughter often imagines I am upset or angry, even when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I could be simply concentrating or squinting because of a glare. While I can make it a point to smile more, it is also important to help the child think through other possibilities so they are not jumping to conclusions about teachers and friends.
Distract by dominating a skill
Feed the area of their brain that craves excitement by giving them the tools necessary to become excellent in one of their interests. Whether they are dancing or playing a sport, creating works of art or playing an instrument, help them excel to the best of their ability. This healthy distraction can build self-confidence while creating important new connections in their brain. Be creative and make room for things you might not have considered.
It is easy for a moody tween to push everyone away. While private time is important, make sure they are engaging with family and friends regularly. Sitting in front of a computer for hours on end does not count, even if they are chatting with cyber friends.
The foundation set in the tween years will carry them through their teens and into adulthood, so be sure to keep your eyes open. This is no time to lose control or worse yet, give up on your child. Embrace your role as a parent, and embrace your child.
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