We are often preoccupied with the challenges that teenagers may face. Concerns about reckless driving, risky behaviour such as unprotected sexual activity, alcohol and drug abuse, and the complexities of the university application dominate our thoughts. We often overlook critical period before adolescence – The Tween Zone – amid these urgent concerns.
The pre-adolescent years, also known as “tween years” (usually between eight and twelve), are when your child undergoes a profound change in their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Even though it is natural for this age group of children to want to be independent and seek their friends’ advice, they still depend heavily on the support and guidance from parents, even if it doesn’t come across as such. It’s essential to understand the changes occurring in your pre-teens or tweens.
Puberty starts earlier in today’s society, especially for girls. It can begin as early as 9, 10 or 11 years of age, and boys are usually a little later. Parents are often surprised to see their children transform overnight.
These changes can cause awkwardness, clumsiness, and even growing pains because of sudden growth spurts. They can also make children feel self-conscious about their changing bodies.
What’s going on inside is more important than the external changes.
The most significant shift is how tweens perceive and think. This is where children move from a literal, self-absorbed mindset they have used for their first eight years to a meta-cognitive perspective. They are now becoming aware of both their own and others’ thoughts.
Sudden change in tween’s behaviour from being carefree and uninhibited to becoming more concerned about other people’s opinions, wanting to fit in, feeling excluded, or comparing themselves to others is common. At this stage they start to understand that other people have different opinions, values and viewpoints.
Changes in Social Landscape
Your tween’s social landscape will undergo profound positive and negative changes.
- Independence As adolescents change their perception of themselves and focus more on friends than family, they become increasingly independent. Parents are often surprised by the changes in their children’s behaviour. However, it can be challenging because children may begin isolating themselves from their parents.
- Cliques and Social Hierarchy As pre-teens rely more on their peers for guidance and advice, they also undergo significant cognitive and physical changes. Bullying is a common issue at this age, and it has a lasting effect not only on academic performance but also on family dynamics.
- The Gender Code Cultural messages bombard pre-teens and influence their thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and appearance. Girls may start to struggle with body image, while boys face harmful stereotypes regarding emotions and vulnerability.
- Self-Identification Pre-teens experiment with various personalities to try and find their place within the social landscape. They may switch between leader, follower or rebel roles as they attempt to define their interests and themselves.
Tweens also experience significant changes in their emotional development. They may become more aware of their own emotions and the emotions of others, but they might struggle to regulate their emotions. Parents may face challenges during this phase, characterized by mood swings or changes in interpersonal dynamics.
Pre-adolescence is a period of profound change in your child’s worldview. The child is no longer the person they were just a few months ago. They may want more independence but still need your guidance and support. Adjusting your parenting style to reflect the changes in their lives as they grow into adolescence is essential.
Start meaningful conversations with your tween to strengthen the bond between you and your child.
Here are some open-ended questions to start engaging with your tween
- What was the best part of your day? A simple, open-ended question to encourage your child’s participation.
- Tell me something exciting or interesting that has happened to you in the last few days. Encourage your child’s excitement and positive experiences.
- Do you have anything that’s on your mind? Let your child lead the discussion and discuss whatever is on their mind.
- What would you do if you had the power to plan our family’s weekend? Include them in family decisions and plans.
- Tell me about the book or movie you have been reading recently. What was your favourite part? Encourage discussion about the book or movie they’ve been watching.
- Tell us about something you learned in school that has surprised or changed your perspective. Encourage critical thinking and discussions regarding their education.
- What are your feelings about [insert current event or topic]– Discuss topics or events that are important to them.
- What would you like to explore or learn more about in the future? Encourage your child’s curiosity.
- Tell me about your closest friends and what you like to do together. Show an interest in their social life and friendships.
- Do you have a recent challenge or issue that you would like to discuss with others? Create a space to express their concerns and ask for your advice.
- Tell me about an occasion when you were proud of your accomplishments. What have you accomplished? – Recognize their accomplishments and boost their confidence.
- Which is your favourite childhood memory? Encourage them to share their memories.
- Where would you like to travel in the world and why? Explore your travel dreams and interests.
- How can I make our time more enjoyable or better support you? Show that you are willing to adapt and meet their needs.
No judgement is the key
Remember, the key to creating a stronger bond and connection with your tween involves asking questions and actively listening without judgement, offering support and empathy, and making a safe environment that allows them to express themselves. These conversations will help you build trust over time and strengthen your relationship.
In addition to addressing the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional changes that tweens undergo, it’s crucial to recognise and support their mental well-being, particularly in managing anxiety. The “Unleash” is a valuable resource for tween, providing prompts and exercises encouraging emotional expression, self-reflection, and developing anxiety coping strategies. By incorporating this journal into their routine, parents can help their pre-teens build resilience, foster open communication, and navigate the challenges of pre-adolescence more effectively. This holistic approach ensures comprehensive support during this critical developmental phase.
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