Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern Ph.D.

Parenting Is a Contact Sport

The Positive Sides of Parenting Tweens

You may forget that your kids are hard wired to differentiate.

Posted Jul 01, 2011

Remember when your toddler screeched, "I no want it!" when she was first learning to express her independence? In between the tantrums and the trials you were most likely delighting in her burgeoning personality, her growing vocabulary and her adorable antics. You were tickled by her discoveries of her expanding world and laughed at her hilarious little behaviors. And even though the inappropriate outbursts threw you into a tizzy, you realized she was going through an important developmental phase.

Now, ten years later, you look across the dining room table and see that same little girl-but this time she has a scowl on her face and she's shouting, "I will NOT do it!" And you wonder, "Oh no! Will this go on forever? Is this what my child has become"? But you may forget that kids are hard wired to differentiate. They're not hard wired to rebel, but inside they are yearning to become independent. So relax into this next developmental stage, knowing that your tween is on her way to becoming a self-reliant adult.

Look on the positive side. Yes, there is one! It's fun and exciting when you focus on how you can help your child grow into his or her highest potential.

Finally, your child is getting old enough to talk with-almost as an adult. How interesting to begin to shift the way you relate to your tween. It's no longer just cuddling, playing games and kissing to make it better. The issues are getting deeper and more complex, and your child needs someone to help explore new ways of thinking about things. The maze of teen life is beginning and you will want to tighten your bond so that you're there for the complicated situations that begin to appear on the horizon. You'll want to set aside special time to talk and get "inside the skin" of your tween and to be involved on a daily basis in what's happening in his life.

Watch how his personality is becoming more defined. Notice his expanding sense of humor, his distinct likes and dislikes and his infectious energy. Don't worry that he is beginning to think for himself. That means you've done your job well. Your child is becoming an individual and you're there to guide and to coach. This is the time to really look for the unique characteristics of your child and affirm those qualities, skills and talents that he or she is passionate about.

Here are five things to remember during your child's tween years.

1. Your tween should be moving away and out into the world. Your job is to move with him, not away from him. Recommit to maintaining a close relationship so that, no matter what he does, you're not far from him.

2. Reconfirm your decision to share openly with her so that she will know you are human and accessible when the difficult issues begin to come up for her.

3. Peer pressure will become greater. Be sure you're still the one he can trust to talk to because you are attentive and have time for him. Review your techniques for being understanding and sensitive to his feelings and be sure to hold back from impulsive reactions, snap decisions and judgments.

4. Take time to participate in her activities and the events she's passionate about-even if you're not interested in them. Celebrate her! This lets her know that she is important to you, and it builds the bond between the two of you.

5. Include him in decision making and involve him in conversations about your own life so that he knows he has a valuable contribution to make to your life. This confirms for him a sense of belonging in your family and builds his respect and self-esteem.

It's all about sticking close and staying connected because the fun of watching your child mature and blossom is like no other! You're beginning a new adventure, but one that is not only challenging but more fulfilling and rewarding than you could ever imagine.

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