You survived the terrible twos, along with the three-nager and fournado years, and you were certain this level of training had prepared you for anything—or so you thought. Enter the tweenaged years.
Oh, the preteen years. This is the period between 8 and 12 years old, where your children will experience massive physical, cognitive, social and emotional growth. They have to grapple with their ever-changing pubescent body, friendship drama and intense swings of emotions. They aren’t a child anymore, but they aren’t quite a teenager either.
It’s no wonder your normally happy-go-lucky tween is suddenly short with you and quick to yell or cry. There are just so many emotions, it is often hard for them to reasonably and logically put their feelings into words.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do as a parent to not only support your preteen while helping them navigate their own emotions and changes they are facing. We spoke with Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, who shared four tips to help you and your tween smoothly ease into—and survive—the tween years.
1. Be a good emotional role model.
As a parent, you may intentionally hide or minimize your feelings when you are sad, stressed or upset to spare your tween’s own emotions. But kids are perceptive, and they will pick up on your emotional state, whether you try to hide it or not. Look for healthier ways to handle and express your feelings. It’s important for them to learn how to pinpoint and express their own emotions and know when to ask for help or support when they need it.
“This is an important set of skills you are teaching your children, because often a child behaves the same way in adulthood,” Dr. Fox said. “When you effectively manage your emotions in front of your children, children learn appropriate ways to react in similar situations.”
2. Understand their social-emotional learning state.
Social-emotional learning is the set of skills, attitudes and values one uses to navigate and deal with things in their life – such as emotions, relationships and difficult situations. When these skills are taught and supported, your tween is more likely to succeed academically, have greater self-awareness, recognize their emotions and understand how those emotions are linked to behaviors.
To nurture this in them, Dr. Fox suggested using these strategies at home:
- Model the behaviors you want to see in them
- Encourage healthy peer interactions, such as participating in sports, dance or music
- Provide a safe and supportive home environment
- Look for social-emotional learning programs in your community
3. Be present and available.
As a parent, it’s hard to see your children in pain or suffering. You can’t be the one to take those feelings away, but you can create a space for them to process their emotions. This also means making yourself available, like quietly doing your work next to your son as he does his homework.
If your child begins to open up, resist the temptation to ask questions or provide advice – unless they ask for it. Show them you won’t judge, criticize their feelings or tell them how they “should” be feeling. Let them know that no matter what, you love them and will stand beside them always.
4. Know when it’s time to seek help.
There will certainly be short periods where your tween may struggle in school or with friendships. Most kids—and even adults—feel distressing emotions, such as fear, anger and sadness. These periods on their own may not warrant therapy, but if you begin to notice your tween acting or behaving in a way that is disruptive and harmful to their well-being, seek help from a licensed therapist or counselor.
“Therapy can be a safe space for everyone—not just your tween—to process those complex thoughts and emotions,” Dr. Fox explained. “By giving them this as an option, you are showing them that there’s no stigma or shame in asking for help.”
This phase of their life probably won’t be the easiest, but with some hard work and love, you’ll be setting the stage for smoother young adult years.
To find a licensed behavioral health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.