Family & Parenting

How playing with your tween can reduce challenging behaviour

Clinical psychotherapist Joanna Fortune's latest book, 15-Minute Pareting: 8-12 Years, demonstrates ways in which parents can improve their relationships with their kids through simple, yet meaningful daily playful connections. Jenny Lee finds out more and gets some advice on helping our tweens manage screen time, the move to secondary school and peer pressure

Show an interest in what your child is doing online, but don't be afraid to set limits is the advice from parenting expert Joanna Fortune

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO START IMPLEMENTING YOUR 15 MINUTES OF MINDFUL PLAY WITH YOUR TWEEN?

With a child this age it can be very helpful to involve them in your commitment to spend more time each day having fun together. It doesn't need to feel like a forced "now we are going to play" announcement but something like "I really like spending one-to-one time with you and we don't get as much time as I would like, so how about we each make a plan to spend even 15-minutes each day having fun, playing an activity and just enjoying being together".

WHY IS HAVING A PLAYFUL CONNECTION WITH THEIR PARENTS SO IMPORTANT IN CHILDREN'S EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT DURING THESE TWEEN YEARS?

We never lose our need for imagination, no matter how old we are. The capacity to 'wonder' and 'imagine' helps to keep us flexible and adaptable to change in our lives (something we have all needed over the course of this pandemic).

Play patterns certainly evolve and change at this age and we do see children of tween age lean into gaming, bikes and hanging out with friends more, but when we can make imaginative play available and appealing they will migrate towards it just as much.

It matters because play is precisely how our children make meaning of their experiences, how they process and integrate learning and how they take a break from a busy mind. The flexibility of thought and critical thinking skills that imaginative play affords children is essential to strengthen and enhance their capacity for emotional self-regulation at this age.

HOW SHOULD PARENTS REACT IF THEIR CHILD REFUSES TO CO-OPERATE AND THEY INCREASINGLY BECOME LESS COMMUNICATIVE?

Challenge play can be a good place to start. Don't be afraid to let them see you playing and being a bit silly, as it gives them permission to let themselves do the same. Ask them to help you out with an experiment. Your tween and another person will turn a skipping rope for you to jump in the middle, but you will be holding a plastic cup of water. After 10 jumps see how much water is left in the middle. Now challenge your tween to take a go and see if they can beat you.

DO TRADITIONAL FAMILY BOARD GAMES STILL PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN TODAY'S WORLD?

Any form of play is valid and valuable as it enables connection and shared joy between you and your child. Consider family games that stretch us a little bit, contain creativity and have something for everyone. For example, Cranium or What a Performance, as both involve a lot of imagination and creative playfulness.

Or take a stack of Jenga blocks and with a sharpie pen write incomplete sentences such as something that makes me laugh/cry/scared/happy/excited/grumpy or my happiest/saddest/funniest memory is... and as you each pull out a block you must finish the sentence.

WHAT IS YOUR TOP TIP FOR MANAGING SCREEN TIME WITH CHILDREN APPROACHING THE TEENAGE YEARS?

Ideally you would agree to screen usage rules before you give your tween a digital device. Be interested in what interests them. Ask them to show you their TikTok videos, games they play or apps they like in a way that you are curious and not 'checking up' on them. But don't be afraid to set limits.

HOW THIS SUMMER SHOULD PARENTS PREPARE THEIR 11-12 YEAR OLDS FOR STARTING SECONDARY SCHOOL?

This transition involves a shift in independence and as such you want to ensure that your child is ready by providing opportunities to practice independence over the summer. Make sure there is lots of time to play and have fun together, but also that they have time with friends who will be going to the same school in September to build connections.

Involve them in purchasing new uniforms and school supplies and about a week or 10 days before school starts back implement the routine that is needed i.e. going to bed and getting up/eating breakfast, being dressed at the times they will need to be doing this at once school is back.

YOUNG PEOPLE THIS AGE HAVE A STRONG DESIRE TO FIT IN AND ARE OFTEN SUSCEPTIBLE TO PEER PRESSURE. WHAT GAMES OR CONVERSATIONS CAN WE DO WITH OUR CHILDREN TO HELP THEM NAVIGATE THIS?

In these middle childhood years our children will still bring their questions and struggles to us, but no longer see us as having all the answers and are focused on what friends think of them or what they perceive their friends think of them. This can be a challenge for parents and children alike, as they are still developing the skills that enable them to assess and filter through what is appropriate behaviour.

Spend time, when in the car together or out for a walk, wondering and discussing something you've read or heard about body image, bullying or losing friends. Listen without judgment and share a couple of your thoughts, even if they are different, as this shows that different perspectives on the same topic can co-exist.

Spend time looking at media images and discuss how images are altered and filtered and how we cannot assume that everything we see or hear online is real. Have fun using a photo app to alter your own images to show how easily this can be done.

WHAT ACTIVITY COULD WE DO WITH OUR TWEEN TO HELP THEM DEAL WITH ANXIETY AND EXAM PRESSURES?

Focus on praising effort over outcome and ensure that they are well nurtured (snacks, favourite dinners, an at-home manicure or back-rub). Study breaks to reset a busy agitated brain are just as important. Give them quick and simple ways to self-regulate when they feel stressed, such as Clam Cuddle, where you place the opposite hand on opposite shoulder and squeeze yourself as tight as you can count slowly down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and let go, then repeat three times. Find ways to playfully change their field of vision. Such as, look out of the window and find five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can smell, two things you can touch, one thing you can taste.

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Family & Parenting