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Top 10 Tips For Dealing With Your Tween

Updated on July 14, 2017
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After working with pre-teens for many years, Mary is also the mum of a tween with ASD and ADHD, and uses her experience to help others.

1: Don't Try To Be Cool

You are the parent of a tween, which means that you are not cool. You are not their friend, either. They have lots of friends - you just need to scroll through their phone's contacts to see just how many friends they have - and every single one of them is cooler than you are. You are not their friend, you are their parent. You are their mentor, their guide into the weird world of growing up. You are there to nurture them, to discipline them, to talk them through their homework. You are not there to hand out money like it's chewing gum or allow them to be introduced to inappropriate films or games. They need you to show them how to behave and deal with all of the strange new situations that they're going to come across. Being a cool parent, trying to be their friend, means that they will miss out on important social lessons, all because their parents were afraid to say 'no' because they might not be considered fun any more, and those lessons are a lot harder to learn as an adult than they are as a tween, so don't be afraid to upset your child and ruin their life by not allowing them to watch the latest scary movie or play games that have a higher body count on the first level than every Rambo film ever made. They'll get over it, and they'll appreciate it when they're older.

2. Set Firm Boundaries

You probably think that you've been doing this for years, and are about to skim over this point. Don't do it. Instead, think about the last time that you actually sat down and gave some thought to all of the boundaries that you have given your child. When was the last time you made amendments to the House Rules you have stuck on the kitchen cabinets? Sit down with your family at least one a year and discuss the rules and expectations for everyone. Write them out anew, and pin them up in a prominent place. Include things like curfew times, manners, not shouting, and homework. Now that your child is older, they will be able to follow more rules; after all, the legal age of criminal responsibility in the UK is 10, so getting your tween to understand that screaming swear words in your face while ripping up their homework sheet because you wouldn't allow them to stay out until 10 PM is very basic, in comparison. Agree to talk about issues in a calm manner, and leave the rules open, so that if one person thinks that anything is unacceptable, you can all sit down and talk about it. This doesn't mean that the rules will change, necessarily, but it encourages your child to communicate with you when they are unhappy with something.

3. Respect Is A Two Way Street

Getting caught up in an argument with your tween is surprisingly easy to do. What seemed like a minor issue to start with will snowball out of control, ending up with both of you yelling at each other, and neither of you listening. When this happens, it is easy to say that they pushed you too far, that you had had enough, and that they simply don't listen to you, no matter what you do or say. It is easy to forget that you are the adult, and that you are as responsible for the argument getting out of control as they are, if not more so. Apologising to your tween when you have been disrespectful to them is a brilliant way of showing them that adults make mistakes, too, and that it is okay to admit when you are in the wrong. Apologising calmly and refusing to get back into an argument also teaches them how to act maturely, even when all they want to do is kick and scream and cry. You are showing them the respect they deserve, and they are more likely to show the same respect to you. The same goes for openly discussing feelings of hurt and disappointment when it comes to your tween. Hearing the child that you have loved for a decade or more tell you that they hate you because you wouldn't let them go shopping in the city with their friends is heartbreaking, but you can tell them that, while you know it is a disappointment, you don't feel that the city centre is a safe place for a child of their age to be unaccompanied, and that hearing that they hate you, even though they don't mean in, when you're just trying to keep them safe is hurtful. Open communication and a mutual respect for each other is key.

4. Have Some Family Time

I don't just mean on your annual holiday, either. Set aside some time every single week where you all put down your phones, step away from the TVs, computers, and games consoles, and all hang out together as a family. Play board games, cook together, go out for a picnic. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it does have to include the entire household. Your tween wants to spend less time with you, but needs to know that you are there for them. There are times when they need your whole, undivided attention, and dedicated family time gives them the opportunity to have just that, and develop interpersonal skills that will be crucial in the future. Even if they moan about spending time with the family, especially without the mobile phone that has managed to become welded to their hand, these moments are important to their continuing development, and will create lasting memories for all of you when they finally fly the nest.

5. Let Them Express Themselves

Self expression is something that really comes into it's own during the tweenage years. From experimenting with clothes, haircuts, and makeup to discovering how to communicate with people as a growing individual, your child will start to try out different ways of letting the world know who they are as an individual. Not all of this is going to be pleasant. It's easy to refuse to let your 11-year-old baby girl cut her luxuriously long hair into a pixie cut, or freak out when your son buys frighteningly expensive designer trainers with his birthday money, but they finding their feet in a world where every other photo is put on social media for the world to see, and they have to learn who they want to be in the eyes of this prying, selfie-obsessed culture. Within reason, give them some freedom to experiment with their look. I don't mean go out any buy every item of clothing or makeup that they say they want, or dye their hair neon green when their uniform code says natural hair colours only, but allowing them to have input into their image, even if you don't entirely agree with it, allows them to learn who they are, and will help build their self-confidence.

6. Have A Laugh

Yes, I know that I have said not to try to be their friend, and I stand by that, but there is nothing stopping you from having some silly moments with your tween. Remember, they are at an age where they are still young enough to be innocent, while being old enough to have really developed a sense of humour. These, along with the precious time with family and friends, are the moments that they will remember. Don't spend all of your time working, or allowing their new-found embarrassment to be seen with you put you off making an effort with them. They are at a defining point in their lives, and you should all put in the effort to enjoy it together.

Tweens will try your patience, but try to take a breath and deal with the situation when you're calm.
Tweens will try your patience, but try to take a breath and deal with the situation when you're calm.

7. Keep Calm And Carry On

There are many, many challenges to face while your child is in their tweens, and it's only going to get worse when they become fully-fledged teenagers. Staying calm when they irk you is really important, even... no, especially when they're hitting your nuclear switch with everything that they have. Take a moment, walk away, and show them how a mature adult deals with being angry or upset. they'll need the time to calm down, too, and having a few minutes away from each other will do you both the world of good. Once you're both calm, you can discuss the issue in a clear, calm manner, each allowing the other a turn to speak and tell the other why they feel/said/reacted the way that they did. Don't let it go on forever, but do allow open and honest discussion in order to encourage honest discussion later on, preferably without the yelling and upset.

8. Expect An F-Bomb

If they haven't done so, already, your tween will begin swearing at some point soon. Thanks to the regularity that our youngsters come across unwanted language, on the bus, at school, even just walking down the road, they will pick it up quickly, and think that it's the right, grown up thing to do. After all, everyone else does it, don't they? Be prepared for swearing, and keep a cool head when it happens. Explain what the word means, and why it is insulting, because, more often than not, our kids don't know what the words actually mean, they just know they're not supposed to say them. Once they understand why it isn't a nice thing to say, and see that it doesn't get a reaction from you, they're less likely to use it again in the future, but more likely to come and ask you what something they head someone else say means. Expand their little minds, but keep to the ground rules; no swearing means no swearing. Ensure they know that they will be punished for bad language, and stick to it.

Caught in limbo between childhood and the teenage years, tweens need firm boundaries and freedom in equal amounts.
Caught in limbo between childhood and the teenage years, tweens need firm boundaries and freedom in equal amounts.

9. Learning To Lie

As uncomfortable as it might be to admit, your child will have lied to you in the past, and they will lie to you again. Things like "we weren't set any homework" are common enough lies, and have their own, natural consequences; if they don't do their homework, they'll get into trouble. Eventually, they'll learn that it's not worth lying about these things, and just do as they're supposed to, instead. On the other hand, lying is definitely a behaviour that should not be encouraged, and some lies can put your child in danger, like telling you that they're hanging out at a friend's house when they're actually sneaking off into the park with a bottle of vodka they pinched from their friend's dad's drinks cabinet. When you catch your child lying, confront them, but gently enough so that they won't continue to lie and make matters worse. Explain that it is best to be honest about mistakes, because we can only fix problems that we know about, and that you expect them to make amends for whatever transgression that has occurred. Show them your evidence, and tell them that lies are not welcome. If they continue to lie, take their phone, computer, or games console until they are able to be honest with you. You'll almost certainly get some abuse for it, but they made their bed, they can lie in it.

10. Be Kind

There are going to be days when you're not going to be able to cope with all of the drama of a tweenager, but that is okay. You're human, and you need to forgive yourself. There are going to be days when you tween is nothing short of demonic, and you're going to seriously consider putting them up for adoption, or taking out a second mortgage to fund boarding school until they can learn to treat other people like human beings. Discipline them for it, but be kind to them, too. They're still people-in-training, still young, and doing their best. Sometimes their best isn't going to be good enough, just like yours isn't always good enough, too.Punish them, then move on. Don't bring out a list of transgressions every time they mess up, but take each day as it comes, and give them a chance to start anew each morning. Praise their good behaviour, discourage their bad behaviour, and have as much fun as you possibly can. After all, you're halfway to them flying the nest, and you'll miss these days, once they've left home.

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