From Sweetheart to Monster - Understanding your Tween

It's official. Children really are growing up more quickly than ever before. For parents, the transition from child to teenager brings a minefield of challenges. In this two part article, parenting expert Eileen Hayes shares her tips for dealing with tweens.

Tween Discipline

The ages 7-12 can be such a challenging time, yet it is puzzling how little advice exists for parents of tweens. On the plus side, tween-age children usually do want to please their parents, and most love spending time with their families. Parents should try to make the most of this before the teen years kick in... 

The downside

Some behaviours in this age group can be challenging and difficult for parents. A child who may have been perfectly happy for parents to make most of the decisions, suddenly develops a strong will of his own. A placid, friendly child suddenly becomes moody and snaps at parents over the least thing. If you really enjoyed the baby and young child days, this can be a difficult adjustment.

For children, it is an experimental time, working out what sort of teenager and young person they are eventually going to become. Many parents say their children seem to be teens at ten!

Understanding the effects of Adolescence

Puberty, the start of adolescence, is now taking place earlier than in previous generations. By the end of primary school, many children will experience physical and emotional changes such as breast development or mood swings, and several girls in a class may well have started menstruation. It is also now well - established that the brain changes during the teens and pre-teen years, which makes some tricky behaviour inevitable. It is best not to take any negative behaviour too personally.

The growing influence of peer group

From age ten, the influence of friends may gradually become greater than that of parents. The clothes children wear, the hobbies they enjoy, the music and films they like must all meet peer approval - nothing is more important than feeling like they “belong”. As a parent, it is easiest to let this happen without too many battles. Your child will be making choices as a teenager soon enough, and there is no sense in major rows if he wants to start now. This is still the time to shop together, but allow your child more say over what he like – don’t just enforce your own tastes.

Why have they become so unco-operative?

Parents may feel really confused. Your child refuses to do things you ask, or seems to have become more hostile. It sometimes seems like they hate you, and they may even say this, but it is a temporary love-hate situation that represents their confusion and resentment of the power you have over them. Like toddlers, they have become aware of increasing independence and their widening range of choices. They say “no” simply because they can! Your child can also use his more advanced language, not just to negotiate sensibly with you, but to deliberately deceive you, or to answer back defiantly or rebel against your control.

Life is also tougher for older children. No longer seen as ‘cute’, expectations on them to behave are much greater, which can be stressful.

The top five behaviour problems in pre-teens

  1. Not listening to parents
  2. Answering back and 'cheekiness'. 
  3. Refusing to obey when asked to do something 
  4. Swearing 
  5. Secrets and Lies

The top five parenting tips 

  1. Speak quietly and calmly. Avoid nagging that children simply “tune out”. Make eye contact and show by voice tone and body language you mean what you say. 
  2. Remember some of their behaviour is trying out grown up roles and independence. Be clear about what is unacceptable and stand firm, but always make an effort to speak politely and respectfully. 
  3. Children do want clear boundaries, but think about whether the request is fair and age appropriate. Could you be flexible or negotiate? Is it time to review rules? 
  4. Check your own language isn’t being copied. State clearly if your rule is that no swearing is allowed, and what sanctions will follow. 
  5. Being secretive, or even lying is very difficult for many parents. Explain why lying is wrong and stress that you value honesty - talk about any reasons behind the behaviour. Respect the increasing need for privacy and independence as children grow – they may not want to tell you everything, and insisting on this can lead to lies.

Related links

  • Discipline Tips for the Tween Years: Your child has always been an angel and then they arrive... the dreaded tween years. Parenting expert Eileen Hayes has these discipline tips for children aged 7-12.

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