This is part one 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.
Does it seem like your child has gone from a toddler to tween almost overnight? Has your son gone from wanting you to snuggle or read him a bedtime story to wiping away your kisses and demanding his privacy? Has your daughter gone from playing with her Easy Bake Oven and American Dolls to demanding a cell phone and obsessively taking selfies? If your child has suddenly become sassy, self-conscious, and overly sensitive, welcome to the “tween” years.
The Turbulent Tween Years
The tween stage, typically defined as the years “between” 8 and 12 years old, can be challenging, confusing and and even scary for both child and parent. As a mother of 3 tween boys, it is a daily struggle figuring out what their moodiness is about, why they now wiggle out of my hugs, or trying not to take it personally when they roll their eyes at me as if to say “you are totally weird and uncool Mom”.
Tweens act like they want their independence but actually need us more than ever. But how are we expected to help our kids navigate the mirky waters of these tween years when we don’t understand what they are going through?
The tween stage is much different and more difficult for our kids than it was for us due to social media, cell phones, new peer pressures, and need for social acceptance. They are not only faced with the unavoidable physical and emotional changes, but also faced with the intense pressure of what is or isn’t acceptable as “cool” to their peers or “normal” to society.
As hard as it is to watch our child’s baby fat melting away, the sweet snuggling subsiding, and their dependence on us dwindling, it is important that we are aware of the changes our children are experiencing so we can better support and guide them through this challenging but exciting transition from early childhood to the teenage years.
As children enter these tween years, puberty hormones are released and inevitable changes in their physical development begin. Some tweens are ready, even excited, for this next stage while for others it is unwelcome and embarrassing.
- Usually around 10-14 years old, children enter a growth spurt and begin to grow underarm and pubic hair.
- Oil glands become more active producing oiler skin and hair, sometimes causing pimples.
- Hormones stimulate sweat glands causing body odor.
- For girls, body fat increases, breast development and menstruation (periods) begin.
- For boys, their voices start to crack and get deeper, muscles begin to develop, and they may experience spontaneous erections and wet dreams.
What Parents Can Do
Even though we all went through it, it can be hard for us to remember how awkward and unpleasant some of these changes can be. For preteens, changes in their bodies can sometimes cause extreme self-consciousness or even shame. They may worry that they are not developing at the same rate as their friends. The best thing we can do for our child is to accept the changes their bodies are going through, normalize their feelings about it, and talk openly with them about puberty before they hear confusing or wrong information from friends or the internet. At a time when all they want to do is fit in with their peers and avoid being ridiculed, making them feel safe, accepted and connected at home is crucial.
Be Accepting and Available
As awkward or uncomfortable as “the talk” can be for both of you, it is important that your child knows they can come to you with any questions or concerns about the changes they are experiencing. Remember that we are constantly modeling behavior for our children, so parents should not tease them about their pubertal changes but lovingly reassure them that the changes are normal and everyone grows and develops at a different pace.
It may help your child if you can share stories of when you were experiencing your own pubertal changes and what it was like for you. This can help normalize their feelings and help them feel understood and not so alone. Adding some humor into the conversation can ease tensions for both of you.
Help with “The Talk”
If the idea of broaching this sensitive subject is still too anxiety provoking for you (I’m not going to lie, having the “talk” with my boys caused great angst for me too), there may be help for you. Your child’s school may offer an introduction on the subject, or there are many books on puberty that are available. Locally offered parent/child classes such as Sensitive Solutions is an ideal setting to connect parents and children on this sensitive topic with facilitated conversations in a group setting.
However you decide to join your child on this journey to adulthood, your open communication, acceptance and understanding is the first step in helping your child feel secure and supported and in growing their positive self-esteem.
Stay tuned for more tips on parenting your tweens through the emotional changes. If you are having trouble connecting with your child or think you need help with parenting, consulting with a therapist may benefit you. Call me for a free phone consultation.