Parenting the “in-betweens”

Pre-teen looking at cell phone

Not yet teenagers but not so little anymore, the term “tween” is generally given to children between the ages of 9 and 12. They’re caught between two age groups and don’t really fit into either, so it can be a challenging time for kids of this age—and an equally challenging time for the parents and grandparents who are raising them.

As tweens, social pressures change as children become more aware of the boy-girl dynamic, homework increases, hormones start to kick in and they tend to become more self-conscious and more aware of that seemingly overwhelming need to fit in. It’s a time when parents might find their children pushing boundaries, acting out and struggling to find their way.

Parenting a tween isn’t always easy, but fortunately, experts have good advice for parents trying to guide their children through these sometimes-tumultuous years.

5 ways to cope with the tween years:

  1. Make sure your tween is getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet. Everything may seem to be in flux and feel unbalanced in their lives, so keeping the basics on track is critical because it will help them cope with these new pressures. Kids should be eating nutrient-dense foods including fruit and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and protein including seafood; lean meat and poultry; eggs; beans; peas; soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds.1 Limit foods with added sugars, saturated and trans fats and sodium. As far as sleep goes, children between the ages of 5 and 12 should be getting 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night—no matter what they might say!2
  2. Give them down time. Between school, homework, sports and other extracurricular activities, being a tween can be a busy job. Ensuring that they have adequate quiet time to relax or go outside and enjoy unstructured play is important for their mental and physical wellbeing. They are still just children, after all. You might even consider teaching them some mindfulness practices like deep breathing and other grounding exercises that can help to calm them and relieve stress. Visit Mindful for some great mindfulness practice ideas for kids and families.
  3. Be there to listen. Tweens often complain that their parents don’t listen to them. Keep those lines of communication open now so they’ll stay open as your child ages. Turn off the TV, put down your devices and give your child your undivided attention—and try to remain calm no matter what she tells you. She’ll be much more apt to continue sharing her thoughts and experiences if she feels you have a sympathetic and understanding ear.
  4. Limit social media. Decide on the parameters and stick to them. You need to encourage your child to confide in you and other family members. It’s important for them to talk to the real people in their lives rather than sit in front of a screen in isolation for hours on end, “talking” to their friends online. There is a time and place for social media, and right now you get to decide the rules. For guidelines on healthy media use as well as information on why limiting social media is important for kids and teens, visit Healthy Children.
  5. Be careful when scolding. Tweens will push boundaries and may act out in ways they never did before. Of course this behavior should be addressed, but when scolding your child, make sure you only criticize the bad behavior, not the child. You never want your child to feel that they are bad, simply that what they are currently doing or saying is unacceptable. Stay calm and lead by example when disagreements arise. For more advice about correcting and disciplining your child, visit Mental Help.

Above all, try to remember that your child is growing and changing, and that it’s never a simple process. They aren’t purposely trying to push your buttons; they’re just trying to understand and cope with all the new feelings and experiences that being a tween brings. Be patient and loving—even when they may be at their most unlovable—so that your tween always knows they have a rock-solid ally in you.

For more good advice on dealing with children in the tween years, visit the Child Mind Institute.






420917 CAN/US (09/22)

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