Supporting Your Child During the Tween Years
Your tween is changing in many ways. They are in that stage between wanting more independence but also wanting to cling to their childhood. A tween is a child ages 9-12 years of age. This is a stage when not only is their body changing but also how they relate to the world. It is no wonder that many children experience heightened levels of anxiety during this stage of their lives.
Early adolescence or the tween years is often the time where children begin to grow the most rapidly and experience the most body changes. This includes underarm hair, hair around their genitals, and enlargement of breasts for girls and testicles for boys. Typically girls start to notice body changes a couple years before boys. Girls can start to notice changes as early as 8 years old. Most girls begin menstruation around 12 years of age. Typically two to three years after breasts develop.
All these changes can correlate to more anxiety. You may also notice that your child has developed very definitive thinking. Things are either going to be either really great or really bad. There is not a lot of in between. This is usually the stage where they become more and more focused on what their peers are thinking of them. This can be a tough stage for parents as well because this is often the first time boundaries are pushed. Typically when restrictions are made 'tweens often react very emotionally towards those restrictions.
So how do you help your tween navigate this stage in life?
Here are a few tips:
- Do NOT keep your child in the dark. Talk to them about puberty BEFORE it hits. Check out books, talk to your pediatrician and most importantly make sure they know they can come to your with any questions. When they do bring forth those questions make sure to not belittle them or try to change the subject. Just answer them with honest facts. Make them feel as comfortable as possible in coming to you. How you respond is crucial, as you want them to feel they can continue to come to you with questions.
- When talking to them use scientific names for body parts versus slang terms.
- Keep conversations positive with your tween. Make sure you encourage them and point out the good things they do. This will lead to more self-confidence and a better self-esteem.
- Be supportive and set clear and consistent limits with reasonable expectations. Make sure to communicate expectations in advance for curfews, technology use, behavior, friend time, homework, etc.
- Find ways to give them more independence and responsibility. This can be as simple as allowing them to stay up a little later as they age or allowing them to have more control over when they do things; for example, you can choose to play with your friends now or later as long as you get your chores done sometime today. You can work on adding responsibilities such as different chores or setting an alarm clock and getting themselves up in the morning. Studies have shown that children with parents that set clear and concise guidelines and provide a good balance of independence and responsibility have a lower rate of depression and drug use.
- Discuss risky behaviors and their consequences. Be sure to set a good example.
- Promote your child’s independence and uniqueness.
These years can be tough, but it is so important as the parent to let your child know that you will always be there for them. It is more important than ever to promote a positive home life environment and let your child know they are loved and you will always be their biggest supporter.
By Beth Lucht, Family Life Educator, Women’s and Children’s Community Outreach Education, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center