As a parent, helping your child become a successful learner is one of the most important things you can do for their future. Around the ages of nine to twelve, a noticeable shift occurs in our children’s behaviour. The once affectionate and open little ones who would eagerly seek our company and confide in us now show a diminished desire to engage with us.
A pre-adolescence child is not the same person he was just a year or two ago. He has changed—physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. He’s developing new independence and may even want to see how far he can push the limits set by his parents.
Your child may not realise how much they still need you, as a solid parent-child relationship can significantly contribute to smoother adolescence. However, establishing a successful connection with your child during this phase requires acknowledging their growing need for independence while maintaining your role as a supportive parent.
It will help if you respect your child’s need for greater autonomy to forge a relationship.
Discover valuable expert tips for parenting that will facilitate open communication channels between you and your tweens, ensuring a seamless transition into the challenging teenage years.
1. Don’t feel rejected by their newfound independence.
It’s appropriate for kids this age to start turning away from their parents and relying more on friends, but parents can take their tween’s withdrawal as rejection. “All too often, parents personalise some of the distance that occurs and misinterpret it as a willful refusal or maybe oppositional behaviour.
Beware of trying to force information out of a resistant tween. “This is a time when children start to have secrets from us, and parents who have a low tolerance for that transition — they want to know everything — can alienate their children by being too inquisitive.”
2. Dedicate dedicated time to connect with your child.
Engaging tweens in meaningful conversations can be challenging. However, you can establish a particular one-on-one period, scheduled once or twice a week, where you give your undivided attention to your tween. During this time, avoiding distractions like work or texting is essential. Creating this dedicated space strengthens your relationship and imparts the necessary interpersonal skills to benefit them. Quality time is crucial, even if our children initially resist or express disinterest. It is important not to unintentionally reinforce their withdrawal by colluding with their reluctance.
3. Try the indirect approach.
When younger, you could ask direct questions. How was school? How did you do on the test? Now, the direct approach — carpet-bombing them with questions about school and their day — doesn’t work. Suddenly that feels overwhelming and intrusive. And it’s going to backfire.
They are, instead, adopting an opposite approach and positioning themselves primarily as a listener is vital. By simply sitting down and listening attentively, you increase the likelihood of receiving the information about your child’s life you desire. Dr Kirmayer suggests that this approach communicates to children that you provide a safe space to express their thoughts and emotions freely. It allows them the freedom to share anything on their mind. While there may be instances where you can offer guidance and advice, it is crucial to refrain from intervening and solving all their problems. At times, your role may involve empathising with their challenges and acknowledging their difficulties.
4. Don’t be overly judgmental.
Avoid excessive judgment towards others, especially during your child’s development stage. Dr Steiner-Adair advises that children in this age group are highly observant of your level of assessment. They pay attention to how you talk about other people’s children, particularly those with behavioural issues or differences in manners or appearance. They actively evaluate whether you exhibit harshness, criticism, or a judgmental attitude.
She gives the parent’s example, who says, “‘I can’t believe she posted this picture on Facebook! If we were her parents, it would mortify us.’ Or ‘I can’t believe he sent that YouTube video around!’ They are commenting on behaviours that need commenting on, but their judgment’s intensity and rigidity is what backfires.”
5. Watch what they watch with them.
It is vital to actively engage with the media content your child watches, especially as they enter middle school. By watching their chosen shows or movies together, you create an opportunity to connect and open up discussions about topics that might otherwise be considered sensitive or off-limits. However, it is crucial not to approach these discussions with overly intense criticism. Instead, maintain a balanced perspective and use humour as you navigate conversations about values portrayed in the media. Dr Steiner-Adair advises against being extraordinarily critical and encourages a light-hearted approach to facilitate meaningful discussions.
As parents, we are responsible for guiding our children to understand the influence of media in shaping gender norms. The media bombards kids with messages about what it supposedly means to be a boy or a girl. We must help them recognise these societal expectations and distinguish between harmless teasing and hurtful behaviour. While addressing this issue, it is essential to approach it with sensitivity, using humour when appropriate.
6. Don’t be afraid to start conversations about sex and drugs.
It is important not to shy away from initiating conversations about sex and drugs with your children. Regrettably, some children may start experimenting with drugs and alcohol as early as 9 or 10. Dr Kirmayer emphasises that sexual development plays a significant role during this age, and it is also when eating disorders may begin to emerge. Therefore, it is crucial to utilise these formative years to establish a solid foundation by providing them with age-appropriate and relevant information. You can equip them with the knowledge and guidance to navigate these sensitive topics effectively by engaging in open and honest discussions. Dr Kirmayer suggests providing your tween with information and resources on sexuality without the pressure of a giant “talk.”
If puberty has made its awkward entrance into your son’s life, you might wonder where to look for straightforward answers to some of the most challenging questions. These books will give your kid the facts to navigate the choppy waters of teenhood. Puberty can be a sensitive topic, especially for young girls starting to see body changes. Help your daughter feel comfortable and confident with the changes she’s experiencing by reading a few of these top books about puberty, which can help your daughter feel better equipped to handle the coming years.
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Their peer group will expose them to this stuff. You want to provide them with accurate information, but you want to do it in a manageable way. Let them have the book on their bookshelf so that they can look through it and come to you with questions.” Dr Steiner-Adair’s book The Big Disconnect also offers scripts and advice about how to talk to your children about sex.
7. Don’t overreact.
Dr Steiner-Adair warns against being the mom or dad who, in a bad situation, makes things worse. She gives this example: “Your daughter comes in crying; she did not get an invitation to a sleepover. She sees a photo of it on Instagram or Snapchat. The parent says, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you didn’t get an invitation! That isn’t very pleasant! I’m going to call the mother.’” The crazy parent amplifies the drama, fueling the pre-adolescent’s already hyper-reactive flame. They make their kids more upset.
8. Don’t be “clueless” either.
At the other extreme, don’t be a parent who “just ignores stuff,” says Dr Steiner-Adair. You risk seeming oblivious or unconcerned to kids.
When you catch a teenager hosting a party with alcohol, the clueless parent might say,” ‘Oh, that’s just kids getting drunk at a class party.’ So kids watch their older siblings get away with everything without consequences and think, ‘Great, why would I tell them anything? Why would I turn to them?’”
9. Encourage sports for girls.
Girls’ self-esteem peaks at the tender age of 9 and then drops off, but research shows girls who play on teams have higher self-esteem. Girls on sports teams also do better academically and have fewer body image issues.
Anea Bogue, the creator of an empowerment program for girls called REAL girl, notes, “There’s a prevalent correlation, in my experience, between girls who play team sports and girls who suffer less with low self-esteem because they are looking within and to other girls for their value, as opposed to looking to boys for validation.”
10. Nurture your boy’s emotional side.
“One of the tough things for boys at this age is that the messages from the culture about their capacity for love, real friendships, and relationships are so harmful to them,” says Dr Steiner-Adair. “They say that anything to do with real feelings — love, sadness, vulnerability — is girly, therefore bad.”
At the very least, parents should do everything they can to encourage boys to be sensitive and vulnerable at home while at the same time acknowledging the reality that those traits might not go over well at school. “You can tell him,” Dr Steiner-Adair explains, “that at 15 or 16 when he wants to have a girlfriend, this will serve him well.”
Balancing the needs of your tween can be one of the most challenging parenting tasks you’ll encounter. It may require some experimentation and learning from mistakes, but the effort you invest in maintaining open communication during these years will be advantageous.
By building a foundation of trust with your tween, you create a secure and supportive environment where they can always seek refuge, regardless of the challenges they face in their changing world. This sets the stage for a smoother transition into adolescence, fostering their emotional well-being and strengthening their relationship with them.
The tween years require parents to adapt their parenting approach to meet their child’s evolving needs. Parents can establish and nurture a trusting relationship with their tweens by embracing their growing independence, cultivating effective communication strategies, and addressing sensitive topics. This foundation of trust and open communication paves the way for a smoother transition into adolescence, promoting emotional well-being, resilience, and a sense of security for both parents and children.