I used to hate the word ‘tween’, but now that I have lived through two tween girls and I am about to embark on the tween boy journey, I’ve changed my mind. Tween is a really accurate term.
‘Tween’, short for ‘in between’ , is exactly what they are.
They are not really little kids any more, but they are not really grown up either, they are somewhere in between.
Floating between the two worlds can be a precarious balance. Sometimes the scales tip decidedly towards the little side, and sometimes you are blown away by how mature they seem to be, but mostly you are just confused by how they can still be so little, and at the same time, so big.
How on earth do we parents cope with this tricky balancing act?
How do you help your kids cope?
How do you know when to hold them close and when to let them soar?
Here are a few things I’ve learned about coping with the precarious balance of being a tween.
Tweens can be very responsible, but they still need supervision and direction, both to guide them and to help them feel safe and secure.
As they get older tweens want, and are usually capable of, being very responsible but they still need guidance, the way you do that might need to change. If you tell a tween to do something they are likley to dig their heels in and say no just because they don’t like being ordered around (well who does?) Communicate with empathy and understanding, explain your reasoning for things, ask them to discuss and negotiate options in a calm manner, and work together to find win win situations. Yes they can use technology, but with supervision and following appropriate limits. Yes they can stay home alone or walk to the shops, as long as they are capable and confident enough to follow safety requirements and have shown you they can make good decisions.
Tweens are becoming more independent and working out who they are, but they still need to know you love them unconditionally and will be there to catch them if they fall.
Tweens usually want more independance, and you need to let go a little to give it to them, but you still need to teach them how to manage that independance, what is expected of them, and what values are important to your family. They are going to push boundaries occasionally, and try new things that you might not always like much, but support them as much as you can. Keep the eye rolling to yourself when they play that emo song for the hundredth time, if the weird clothing combo or hair style is not totally inappropriate then let it go, and even if you hate that new thing they are into, pretend to love it. Mostly, be a safe place when they are confused, upset, or trying to navigate remorse, regret and guilt.
Tweens still need time to play and imagine and create, but their play might be a little different now.
They still love to pretend and they still need lots of opportunities to imagine and role play, but where once they were taking on the roles of Mum and Dad or Doctors and Fire Fighters now it is likely to be the characters of their favourite books or movies. Trying on difference roles and acting our various scenarios is still a great way for them to learn how the world works, so try not to interfere or embarrass them about this kind of play.
Lots of kids suddenly decide they are ‘not good at art’ at around this age. Keep them feeling confident by giving them lots opportunities to be creative and not just through art – try construction, music, design, computers or music. They may also find projects where they follow instructions to create a thing a good confidence boost and a way to learn new skills.
Tweens still need lots of opportunities to be physical, but they might need more challenge or structure.
Instead of the incessant running and climbing they used to do, there will probably be more structure to their physical play. They might be more interested in practising sports or playing a more organised game. There may also be an element of risk of challenge to their physical play. They may want to climb to the top of that tree, or improve their skills etc. Now is the time to talk them about how to push themselves and take risks within safety limits.
They might say they are ‘too big’ to go to the park, but find parks and outdoor spaces that offer them challenges (a higher climbing structure, a flying fox, geocaching) and they’ll love it just as much… they will still love the swings too!
Friends will become really important to tweens, but family is still their anchor.
Help them build friendships, especially the positive ones. Say yes to having friends over, offer to drive them places, get to know their friends’ parents, and teach them how to negotiate friendships and how to be a good friend. But also make family time and important thing. Schedule family activities, make sure they are something that your tween will enjoy, make space for one on one time, and be the one they can rely on, the safe place they can always come home to.
Tweens still need hugs and physical affection, just not in public!
They might not ask for it, or initiate it as often, and the way you need to offer it may change, but they still need physical closeness. Don’t embarrass them with public displays of affection, or demand it, just make opportunities to be close whenever you can. A snuggle on the cough for a chat, a hug when they are struggling, five minutes sitting with them at bed time…
The toddler tantrums have passed, but there can still be meltdowns now and then.
Tweens are coping with a lot of physical, cognitive and emotional changes and it is really not an easy time for them. With growth spurts, hormones, and puberty their bodies may suddenly leap forward into adulthood when they are not quite ready for it. Be gentle, be discreet, talk about how to manage this stuff, and remember that behaviour is always communication – work out what it is trying to tell you and you’ll work out the best way to manage the outbursts.
You will see glimpses of a mature, responsible, independent human being, but you’ll also see a lot of less mature, little kid, behaviour too.
Occasionally you’ll come across this mature, responsible, individual who thinks ahead, completes tasks without being asked and even hangs their towel up after they have a shower, but almost as soon as you notice them they disappear. That’s ok. That’s what being a tween is all about, it’s just the beginning of maturity, a little taste, ever so fleeting of how things might be in the future. Take that glimpse of maturity and hold on to it, it’s a beacon of shining light, showing you that perhaps you are not a total failure as a parent, and you will not be reminding your child to ‘put your shoes away or you won’t be able to find them in the morning’ when they are 45!
The tween years are often not easy to manage, as a parent, or as a child.
Even on the best days it’s tricky, and on the worst it is downright impossible, but if there is one thing I have learned from the last few years of tween parenting it’s connection.
Spend time with your tweens, talk to them, muck around with them, do stuff with them, and connect with them. Time spent connecting will help you get negotiate the balancing act now and stand you in good stead as you tackle the teenage years to come.
Do you have tweens?
Do you have any stories to share about times when they have seemed so mature, yet so little at the same time?
How do you navigate these tricky times? Have you got a great tip to share?
I’d love to hear from you!
Leave a comment below and share your tween stories, your tips, or your questions. Let’s tackle these tween years together!