Recently our just-turned eleven-year-old son fell asleep watching a movie on the couch. My husband picked him up to carry him to his own room, and I looked over to see the man carrying the boy, who was suddenly all legs and arms and really not such a little boy. When he returned to our room, my husband quietly said, “Well, it’s official. He’s growing up. This time, everything felt different.” I forced a smile and swallowed a big wad of emotions.
^^Three of my four boys. (The tween is the one…in-between. :))
He’s eleven. He still gives me snuggles and holds my hand in public places.
But he’s eleven...going on growing up. And fast.
He surfs big waves. He uses teenage words. And next to his little brother…he suddenly seems like a man.
I’ve watched two older brothers grow through their tween years already, so you think I’d be all cool with it by now, but I’m not. It’s never easy to watch your child transition to an adult… I mean, of course it’s completely healthy and beautiful and everything you want for them. But it’s still not easy.
There’s a reason someone out there coined the term “tweens.” I personally don’t remember hearing that word when I was growing up, but someone was wise to notice that these dear souls…the ones somewhere in the 9-12 year old range…they deserve a label of their own.
Tweens are living with one foot in the youthful innocence of childhood, and one foot in the often scary, yet exciting world of teenager-hood.
And we’d be wise to tune in. We can’t stop the growing up, but we can be sensitive to the ways in which our tweens are stretching their wings. They’ll appreciate you tuning into their changing needs. And if you navigate the waters well, they’ll be more likely to keep you in the loop as they grow into teenagers.
5 Ways TWEENS are Transitioning, (and what you can do to help.)
1. ROUTINE TO RANDOM.
Young kids are known for needing routine and security. We are taught to provide this for our little ones–you know, a nap schedule, and snack schedule, and a bedtime routine and all of that. But something shifts as kids grow up: They crave more spontaneous activity. They like adventure and excitement. They feel babied when mom tells them they have to be on the schedule that characterized their life as little kids.
What to do? Talk to them about it as you go! Offer a schedule, but be willing to let it go as they are ready. They might not want milk and cookies every day after school. But then again they might! Don’t be afraid to ask.
2. BOUNDARIES TO FREEDOM.
Little kids need lots of rules and restrictions. For safety alone, good parents offer many rules. (My husband and I joke that in the early years the only really important job is keeping our kids alive.)
Kids continue to need boundaries as they grow up. In my most visited post ever, “What a Teenage Boy Needs Most From his Mom,” I wrote that kids actually appreciate some rules and will benefit from them well into their teenage years.
But as they grow up, kids need to begin making more decisions and judgement calls on their own. Sure, they’ll make some bad decisions, and they’ll learn from consequences not to repeat those choices. But they need the chance to figure things out.
What to do? As parents, we need to make sure our family rules are stated clearly and plainly. But the tween years are the time to begin to loosen the reigns and give your kids a chance to practice self regulation as well.
3. FROM ATTACHMENT TO INDEPENDENCE.
Most of us will never tire of the snuggles and loves we get from our little ones. We’d hold on to them forever if we could.
Yet, as the tween years move in, most kids establish a little more of a bubble around them. Oh they’ll still need mom and dad’s touch–for many years to come. But they’ll want to be the ones to decide when and how much. Don’t be surprised if your son or daughter doesn’t want to kiss goodbye (in public!) anymore. This is normal.
What to do? Let them lead. If they still reach for your hand in public, ENJOY IT! If they don’t, then you need to be ok with that too. This is growing up, and it’s healthy.
(I maintain a rule that every kid gives mom a goodnight hug before bed!)
4. FROM PARENTS TO PEERS.
Most little kids would just as well spend time with mom and dad as anyone in the world. They look to us for approval, and entertainment, and we pretty much make their world go ’round.
As kids grow up, they begin looking to their peers more and more for a sense of their identity. This is normal. They will want to fit in and they will look to their friends for things they used to look to their parents for.
What to do? Help guide your kids to making positive friendships. Talk to them a lot as they are developing social skills and make sure you get to know the friends they are spending time with. Then step back as you watch them grow up. They will still want a relationship with their parents, and if you handle things well, you’l get the bonus of relationships with their friends as well!
5 FROM YOUTHFUL INNOCENCE TO PUBERTY.
There isn’t much sweeter than the youthful innocence of children. I look at my preschooler, all naked and unashamed and just want to freeze him. But with the tween years, puberty arrives and everything changes. Puberty can hit as early as eight, but typically more in the 10-14 year old range (earlier for girls than boys.) And with puberty comes changes in body, mood, and…well, just about everything else! If you have a close relationship with your tween, you can likely walk through these years with a healthy relationship. But be prepared for some mood shifts, need for more privacy, and a huge appetite!
What to do? The best thing a parent can do is be prepared for puberty before it hits! Then be ready to be supportive and available to you tween through all of the changes. I always recommend talking about things, before they become things: Their body, relationships, and everything else. Don’t wait for your kids to bring their questions to their peers. Talk comfortably about what to expect in the years to come, and keep it light and positive. Let them know the door is open to come to you with any question, or concern.
You’ve got this!
Sure, tweens can be awkward and complicated and hard to keep up with. But if you can keep perspective, and a big sense of humor, you’ll do just fine!
Feel free to leave your experience with a tween, or any questions you might have, in comments!