Inside: Learn 6 common behaviors that signal pre-adolescence in a child and how to handle them with confidence.
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While parents are told to ‘buckle up’ for the teenage years, we don’t talk much about the turbulence of the years leading up to adolescence, the pre-teen years.
We should, though. The pre-adolescent years (between the ages of nine and 12) are chock full of amazing developmental changes for your child; cognitive, physical, and emotional. The volume and velocity of these changes can leave us wondering, who took our sweet child and replaced them with a villain from ‘The Descendants’?
It can be an unsettling and confusing time, for both you and your child, but have no fear, there is much hope for the both of you.
Let’s dissect six of the most distressing dilemmas parents face during the tween years, and how to handle them with confidence.
Your pre-teen pulls away from you
Just last week your daughter couldn’t wait to download the day’s’ events over an after-school snack, but this week she’s insisting, “I just want to eat in quiet, mom!” She wants to spend more time interacting with her friends and less time playing Uno Attack with the family. The pull toward her peers is the next natural step for your child as she strives to achieve independence.
No matter how many times they roll their eyes or let out an exasperated, “Moooom!” you’re tween still needs a strong and loving connection with you. This doesn’t mean suffocating them with interrogation-style questions, but paying close attention to their interests and hobbies, thereby creating meaningful time for connection based on these things.
Now is the perfect time to become a better listener (which automatically means less talking). Continuing to provide strong roots of connection for your tween will give him the confidence and security he needs to take bold new steps towards independence.
Your pre-teen appears to be on an emotional roller coaster
It’s time for a truth bomb, and, warning, it might be smelly. Your child is likely in the beginning stages of puberty. The hormones are flowing and there is enormous brain development happening. Due to the prolific development and construction of your tween’s prefrontal cortex (the area responsible for logic, reason, and self-regulation), your child is often unable to regulate his own emotions (despite experiencing them more intensely).
While it’s all too easy to jump on board the emotional roller coaster alongside them, opt for a raincheck and go get a funnel cake instead. When emotionally triggered by your pre-adolescent, make note of negative thoughts likely occurring from your past, or fears about your child’s future, and avoid letting them derail you from remaining the calm, level-headed, non-hormone crazed adult that you are.
Your moody tween desperately needs parents who model self-control and emotional regulation.
Your pre-teen is fascinated with fads
“Honey, are you getting a case of winter allergies?”
“No! It’s called dabbing mom!”
Due to major meta-cognitive advancements in thinking, your tween is now aware of the thoughts and ideas of others as well as themselves. Because of this, they are increasingly in tune with their peers and social surroundings. They’re also realizing that there are endless new ideas and avenues to pursue, and possibly, that they’d like to try each of them.
As long as your tween’s fad is appropriate, roll with it. Giving them space to explore creatively and modeling respect will go far to support their emotional well-being. After all, even though your tween acts repulsed by your knock-knock joke, they still crave your acceptance and approval, which is totally savage.
Your pre-teen shuts down
Often times the changes happening in your tween’s brain and body are coming faster than they’re able to adjust. As one might imagine, this leaves them feeling insecure and overwhelmed. Girls and boys are both becoming more aware of cultural expectations for better or worse (in most cases its worse). When your tweens go silent, it can be worrisome and confusing, but some communication basics can get you through.
Your child still desperately needs to hear your voice, opinions, and values, so keep the lines of communication open. Respect your tween’s request for some space, while prompting them to let you know when they’re ready to talk. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and send the message that no topic is off limits.
Here’s the big one: always, always, display love and acceptance of them as an individual (not always of the behavior). If they feel they will be judged or criticized harshly, they’ll likely shut down further.
If talking is like pulling teeth, there are other avenues of communication to explore at this age as well, such as collaborative journaling.
Your pre-teen seems to lose perspective
Intense preoccupation with peers and fitting in may seem to cause your tween to focus more on themselves and less on those around them. Even though it may not appear this way, take heed, your tween still has the heart and capacity for “bigger” things.
It may not always be their first choice, but take them outside their box. Parents can provide their tweens with the type of experiences that will encourage wide-view thinking and help offer them diverse perspectives. Whether it be volunteering at your church or going hiking in a new place, new experiences and adventure will go far to stretch your child’s sense of self and worldview.
Your pre-teen is navigating mature subject matter
Like it or not your child will soon be hearing and encountering subjects such as sex, social media accounts, and first periods. We can try to deny these things, but if our kids aren’t hearing about the tough stuff from us they’ll likely turn to peers or the internet, both sources of copious amounts of misinformation.
Luckily you’ve already created open, honest lines of communication with your tween which will make these challenging conversations much easier.
Step up and take the lead and don’t worry – you’ve got this. Take some time beforehand to gather your thoughts and values in relation to the subject matter at hand. With confidence and respectful authority, make these clear to your tween, also leaving space for their thoughts and opinions on the matter.
If your tween feels heard and validated, they will swallow the “no Facebook account until you’re 13” pill much easier.
Turns out our pre-teens aren’t as scary as they seem.
Your child’s pre-adolescent years are a time of great transition and growth. With a strong connection to your child, tweenhood will not prove to be your greatest enemy. Now that you understand a little more about the mental and physical process of being a pre-teen, you can trust in it – and your child.
Remember that even though they don’t look (or smell) like it, this is the same child who was running around in footie pajamas just yesterday. With confidence, love, and lots of respectful guidance, you might just be Snapchatting your way through the tween-age years with ease.
P.S. Want more information on raising strong and emotionally intelligent tweens? Join 30k parents who get the Parents with Confidence bi-monthly newsletter (You’ll also great my free 5 day email course!)
About Angela Pruess LMFT
Welcome! I’m Angela, a Licensed Children’s Mental Health Professional, Positive Parenting coach, and mom to Spirited Kids that help me learn and grow (grey hairs) every single day. I believe EVERY child deserves to live their BEST life and that emotional health is the magic key to lifelong success and happiness. Read more about me and the Parents with Confidence manifesto.