What to make of the 10- to 12-year-old set? You can’t really call them little kids anymore, but they haven’t become teens yet, either. In recent years, pundits and marketers have started to label children in this transition phase “tweens.”
While every kid is different, many parents find the tween years challenging. If your child is in this stage, you may notice an increase in attitude, eye rolls, and independence. To help manage the transition from child to tween, check out the following tips.
1. Safely Introduce Technology
Chances are, your tween thinks they’re ready for a smartphone. But just because their friends have one doesn’t mean it’s a safe idea. From internet predators to cyberbullies, the online world is full of threats that few children are prepared to handle. Limiting technology use until they’re old enough to navigate the internet safely can help protect them.
Keeping your tween safe doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have any technology, though. There are plenty of phones for kids that let children call and text their friends without access to the internet. This makes it easier for them to build connections with peers while also protecting them from digital dangers.
2. Give Them More Freedom
As children grow older, they crave more freedom. This isn’t a sign of rebellion but an essential part of growing up. However, tweens aren’t yet ready for the independence they’ll experience as teenagers, so it’s important to grant new liberties slowly.
One easy way to help your tween develop independence is by letting them make decisions on their own. Often, parents choose their child’s extracurriculars while they’re young. However, tweens need the freedom to choose activities they enjoy based on their own interests.
In addition, as preteens enter middle school, resist the urge to dictate your child’s elective classes. Choosing their own electives will help them discover and explore subjects that appeal to them. Both the hits and the misses will empower them to make better decisions about their education in the future.
3. Discuss Physical Changes
As your child enters the tween years, their bodies will begin to change. This can be an incredibly confusing time for kids, so it’s important to discuss puberty early on. If you don’t, they may begin to ask friends about these changes, which can lead to misinformation.
When having this conversation, try to put your nerves aside. Many parents feel weird discussing things like sexual arousal and menstruation with their kids. However, you don’t want to make your child feel uncomfortable in their changing body. To prevent this, try to keep the conversation matter-of-fact and be prepared to answer any questions they have. If they raise one that stumps you, promise to find out the answer and get back to them.
4. Build Up Their Self-Esteem
Your tween will experience a lot of changes in the next few years. Starting middle school, entering puberty, and navigating an evolving peer group can all take a toll on your child’s confidence. While you can’t protect them from every cruel comment, you can help build their self-esteem to make them more resilient.
One way to do this is to praise effort over outcomes. Instead of praising your kid for getting a goal at soccer, praise them for the time they spent practicing. Encourage them to try lots of things, even though they may fail at some. Praising energy and effort lets kids know they are valued even when they don’t succeed.
5. Set Clear Rules Around Risky Behavior
All kids can be reckless from time to time, but certain behaviors can put your child’s life at risk. You may think your tween is too young to discuss topics like sex or drugs and alcohol. However, many kids begin risky behavior in their preteen years. A 2019 survey of middle school students found that one in five had drunk more than a few sips of booze.
To help prevent dangerous experimentation, talk with your child about alcohol, drugs, vaping, sex, and other risk-laden activities. Set clear rules around risky behavior and let them know the consequences for breaking these rules. This helps children know what’s expected and makes it easier for them to say no under peer pressure.
6. Watch for Signs of Bullying
Everyone knows middle school kids can be mean. That’s why it’s important to check in with your child and make sure they aren’t the target of bullying. Your tween may be embarrassed to let you know that they’re being bullied, so you need to watch for signs.
There are numerous indications a bully may have your child in their sights. A few of these include faked illnesses, declining grades, loss of friends, and physical injuries. If you discover your child is being bullied, contact their school to meet with the principal. This will make the school aware of the problem, allowing them to address the issue.
7. Help Them Develop Healthy Habits
As children grow, they have more autonomy over their health and well-being. While candy and late nights are fine on occasion, they shouldn’t become a regular part of your preteen’s life. Teaching your child healthy habits now can help them develop a strong sense of well-being for life.
Be sure to discuss topics like nutrition, sleep, and exercise from a health lens instead of a weight loss lens. Children whose parents talk with them about body weight are more likely to participate in unhealthy weight control behaviors. Instead, ask kids about how different foods and activities make them feel.
The tween years are exciting and challenging for both kids and parents. By following the above tips, you can help ease the transition from child to teenager.