Parenting advice: Tips on how to deal with those tricky tween years

Teacher and tween expert Douglas Haddad speaks to Lisa Salmon about the best ways to handle pre-teens with attitude

Tweens are going through rapid maturational changes, especially girls
Lisa Salmon (PA)

WHEN your child is a baby or toddler you know you have to look after them, and when they're a teenager you know they'll want their independence and need careful handling. But what about the time in the middle – the ‘tween' years?

A tween is a child aged from around nine to 12. It can be a difficult stage for both tweens and their parents, as children of this age don't think like, and definitely don't want to be treated like, a little child any more – yet they're not as mature as a teenager.

This can lead to a lack of communication between parent and child, and conflict, warns teacher Douglas Haddad, author of The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens.

But ultimately, says Haddad, “There are three things tweens most desire: to be loved, listened to, and understood. If you get these right with a child, you will form an unbreakable bond for a lifetime.”

Here, he discusses the challenges of the tween years and how parents can deal with them…

:: Are tweens easier to handle than teens and babies?

“Each age group comes with its unique set of challenges,” he says. “The tween years are very much a time for exploring and discovering one's identity. They are critical years where peer influence takes on a more salient role in their lives.

“It's important for parents and educators to help children establish a strong foundation for equipping tweens with the tools necessary to solve problems, become leaders, stand up to peer pressure, resolve conflict, time manage, and become more self-reliant and self-disciplined.

“As tweens graduate into teens, their exposure to bigger problems starts to rise, such as tobacco, alcohol, and drug use, gambling, and sexual relationships. Having an arsenal of tools at their disposal will be critical for their social, emotional, and physical wellbeing.”

::What are the main tween behaviour problems?

“Tweens are going through rapid maturational changes, especially girls. Physical and hormonal changes can make tweens feel quite self-conscious. At this age, children strive for independence. They test the boundaries on a regular basis to see how much they can talk back, slack off from school work, and get away with pretty much anything.

“Tweens gauge how involved their parents are in their lives by continuously pushing the boundaries. During the tween years, bullying increases, as kids this age endure a high amount of peer pressure both at school and online.

“Many tweens receive their first phones around this time and start to get involved in texting, social media, and online video gaming. This often accompanies impulsive and inappropriate behaviour that they're exposed to and often display – especially among peers.”

:: Do parents sometimes find it hard to deal with tween bad behaviour because they still treat them like little children instead of ‘nearly' teenagers?

“As a middle school teacher for over 20 years and working with children and their families from all different backgrounds, I've seen a range of parenting styles implemented, including authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved.

“Furthermore, there are parents who oversee virtually every aspect of their child's life and come to the rescue for all their child's problems. There are also parents who fail to set limits and feel that during the tween years, their children should know better and be more responsible and independent.

“But a failure to set and/or enforce many rules when they're broken often leads to a child spiralling out of control in one or more areas of their life.”

:: How should parents handle tween bad behaviour?

“In my work as a teacher and family coach, I've always emphasised the importance of being available, not only physically, but mentally, and really getting to know your child.”

:: How can parents feel more connected with their tween children?

“One of the exercises I do with the families I work with is bringing the adults back to a state when they were their child's age by asking them some very pointed questions of that time in their life.

“The point of this is to spark a connection with your child. I've learned there's nothing more important than developing a rapport with a child. Once kids know you care about their lives and have expressed a genuine interest to listen to them, accept them for who they are and understand their wants and needs, the door is open for effective communication.

“Empowering a child to help them make decisions, organise their schedule, and set their own goals become valuable tools for them to learn responsibility and accountability for the choices they make throughout their life.

“I feel the most effective discipline system is one that involves natural consequences. Keep the expectations simple and the consequences clear. Children need and actually crave structure, whether they admit it or not, especially during the pivotal tween years, and they need rules and actually appreciate them, as they provide a sense of safety, predictability, and order in their already chaotic life.

“Making time to sit down with your children and clearly express to them the expectations/rules of the house, and consequences that will take place if they are not adhered to, and then actually following through on the enforcement of the consequences, goes a long way in empowering them to own their own decisions and actions in all areas of their life.”

:: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens, by Douglas Haddad, is published by Rowman & Littlefield, £12.95.

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