How I’m struggling to parent a tweenager and the help I’ve found from friends.
When my first daughter was born it was like I instantly had a little buddy. We lived in Vancouver, away from most of our family and friends, and spent the majority of her first two years attached at the hip. She slept with us most nights and since we were fairly new to the area, the three of us were together all the time.
As she got older, her independence soared. We moved back to Ontario to be closer to friends and family and with that came eager babysitters. At the ripe old age of 3 she happily spent a week with her grandparents, 12 hours away from home. According to my in-laws, she never once complained about being homesick or missing us. She’s always been strong willed and self-reliant, and as she’s gotten older and entered the tween years, her need for her mama has clearly become less and less.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still times she needs me, to talk about school, friends and boys, but navigating when, how and why is getting harder and harder. Knowing when to push her to talk and when to back off is tricky. Sometimes I make the wrong judgement and it turns into hurt feelings.
About a year ago, I noticed small changes in my sweet, bubbly girl. Her hair was getting oily faster, she started wearing sports bras, and her moods began jumping from grumpy to giddy and everything in between. I knew it meant puberty was around the corner and that the dreaded teen years would soon be on our doorstep, but I wasn’t expecting the tween years to be as difficult as they have been.
Thus far I’ve learned that tweens are, by far, worse than toddlers. They’re louder, larger and have better vocabularies. They know exactly what to say to hit you where it hurts, but like toddlers, they don’t really know why they’re so pissed off. They’re too big to pick up and put in time out (believe me I’ve tried) and they don’t really give a crap if you take away their toys. Unlike teenagers, they don’t yet have the privileges that motivate them to listen to their parents, like borrowing the car, or going out with friends on their own.
Like any modern mom, I reached out to my mom group pals on our Facebook group, TKL Moms, to get their advice on how to handle these years. The tips I got were solid. Some of it I already knew, and some I didn’t. But it also made me realize that I’m not a totally crap parent for sometimes losing my cool when faced with one of her tween freak outs (and believe me there are many). So here is a list of some of the best advice I’ve found on how to handle tweenagers.
1. Give Them One On One Time.
This may seem like an easy one but it’s not. It’s hard to carve out regular one on one time when you have so many things on your plate, especially when there are siblings around. Creating a regular time for one on one conversations with your tween will go a long way in building trust and understanding and helping them feel connected to you.
2. Talk To Them About Your Feelings.
Let them know how you’re feeling in the situation and how their behaviour impacts you. If they’re not ready to listen, wait until later and try again. The point isn’t to shame them but to help them understand how their behaviour affects others.
3. Positive Reinforcement Over Negative Consequences.
I’m not saying to completely remove all negative consequences however rewarding the positive actions and behaviours with small items or activities may help your child feel more inclined to be better behaved. I’ve found this is a tough parenting technique to use with younger kids but with tweens it may help to encourage more positive actions and thinking.
4. Talk To Them About Your Decisions.
Try to explain why you’re making the decisions you are. Whether it’s something they agree with or not, it helps them to be part of the decision process and to understand where you are coming from.
5. Lead By Example.
Even when they push you away, say mean things and yell at you, make sure they know you still love them. I don’t think this means that you can never be upset or get frustrated but after you lose your cool, be the bigger person and apologize to them if you’ve done anything or said anything you’d wished you hadn’t.
6. Cuddle Them While You Can.
Your tween will very soon be a teenager and will likely be spending most of their time with friends. Take these years to sneak in as many cuddles as you can. A big hug can go a long way. At this age my daughter goes to bed on her own and rarely asks for a cuddle, but I’ve made it a priority to try and get a few minutes of snuggles before bed every night since I know she’ll soon be staying up later than me!
7. Remember To Laugh.
Adding humour can always help lighten the situation and can lift anyone’s mood. Make sure you laugh with you tween and have fun with them! Tweens are in those tough years between being a kid and being a teenager, swinging back and forth between the two stages. If they’re acting silly, try joining them instead of telling them to grow up or act more mature. Embrace their goofiness and let them know it’s ok to laugh at themselves.
8. Get Them To Journal.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings is cathartic for anyone but especially tweens who sometime can’t figure out why they’re feeling certain emotions. Help them by sitting with them for the first few entries and later set an alarm to help remind them to do it daily.
9. Keep Telling Them You Love Them.
This one may seem obvious, but as our tweens get louder, crankier and busier, we may not tell them we love them as much as we did when they were little enough to jump into our arms. Tell them often, even if they roll their eyes and don’t want to hear it. Tell them why you love them and what you admire in them. My daughter is already struggling with self-confidence and I know it can only help for her to hear all the reasons I think she’s amazing.
10. Consistency Is Key.
This is a hard one for any parent and is the key to success at any age. Follow through with the consequences you put in place and be consistent in how you handle situations.
I’m learning that patience is essential to parenting a tween, (or any kid really) and not to expect changes in their attitude overnight. Life with your tween may improve with these tips and it may not, but as parents we have to keep trying to do our best. Thank you to all the amazing moms who pitched in with their ideas and their help! I’ll be keeping you posted on how its going.