Parenting Tweens Through the Emotional Changes
This is part two of my posts on Parenting Tweens. Part 1: The Physical Changes, and Part 2: The Emotional Changes came out of some thoughts on the topic of parenting tweens here in Orange County, California.
Just when you think you understand the physical changes your tween is going through, the emotional changes will throw you for a loop. One minute they push you away and tell you how mean you are and the next they are reaching out to hold your hand and need your comforting and reassurance.
It can be confusing, difficult, and upsetting, but there is an upside to this emotional roller coaster ride of the tween years. Their moodiness and need for independence is a normal, necessary and healthy part of their emotional development. A parent’s understanding and awareness of these emotional changes is important in making the transition from your child’s early childhood to teenage years a smooth one.
The hormones that cause the physical development of puberty in tweens activate the emotional development as well. Their mood swings can fluctuate between anger and sadness to elation in a matter of hours. Moodiness can be triggered from a variety of sources — their physical changes, social pressures, school work, rejection from peers, and a multitude of others.
Handling The Attitude
Try not to be quick to react to their turbulent moods or take it personally. Even though they may act like everything is your fault, it almost never has anything to do with you. While parents need to understand that their tween’s sassy attitude is related to the changes they are experiencing, it is ok to set boundaries for disrespect, angry outbursts, and defiance when appropriate. You can also make them aware of how they sound or how their attitude and behavior is affecting those around them. If you find yourself overreacting, engaging in their snarky attitude, or feeling like you are getting your buttons pushed repeatedly, then self-care or outside counseling might help you better deal with your own emotions.
Understanding Their Growing Independence
It can be easy to interpret your tween’s increasing need for privacy, secrecy, and distance from you as defiant and hurtful behavior. Instead of taking it personally, it is important to respect their growing need for independence while keeping the lines of communication wide open. Do not try to bombard them with questions and force them to tell you what is going on in their lives.
Try to set aside one-on-one time with your child at least once a week void of any distractions (yes, this means you both need to put away your cell phones). It can be hard to get your tween to open up and share, so try to let the conversation flow naturally and simply be there to listen. Seize any opportunity — the 10-minute car ride to practice or even a quick stop for dinner on the way home can be opportune times for a quality conversation with your tween. The key is to be present with your child and value these precious one-on-one moments you have with them.
“Seeing” Your Child for Who They Are
As a therapist who counsels tweens and teenagers, the biggest complaint I hear from kids isn’t peer pressure, academic pressures, or wanting to fit in (although those are high on the list). The number one complaint is that they don’t feel their parents listen to them or understand them. You may be thinking “That’s not me. Of course I listen to my child”, but we are all guilty of it on occasion. Really listening, understanding, and “seeing” your child for who they are takes patience, empathy, and removing all judgement about what they are trying to tell you. As much as we may want to offer our opinion, disagree, fix a problem, or convince them they shouldn’t feel that way, it is best to try to listen, be empathetic, and perhaps offer a suggestion if they seem to be open to or looking for advice from you.
When to seek professional help for your child
If you notice that your tween’s moodiness and disrespectful behavior is occurring more consistently, is happening outside of the home, is affecting their academic or social functioning, and if your efforts to help them haven’t worked, then it might be time to seek professional help for your child.