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Parenting Tweens: 25 Tips for Moms & Dads

Mark Twain is said to have advised that when a youngster turns 13, his mother or father should put him in a barrel, close the lid, and feed him through a hole in the side.  Then, when he turns 16, plug up the hole.

A tween is a child between the ages of 9 and 12 (but this age could sometimes extend up to the age of 15). The child thinks she’s a teenager – but she’s not quite there yet. It is a relatively recent term used to describe a distinct period in life in which kids are still kids, but are starting to develop a more realistic view of the world, similar to adolescents.

Tweens are developing a more realistic view of the world in several ways:
  • increased feelings of independence
  • more developed sense of self and identity
  • more mature, sensible, realistic thoughts and actions
  • more nuanced view of human relationships (e.g., they may notice the flawed, human side of adult authority figures more readily than they would at a younger age)
  • more nuanced view of morality
  • more realistic fears (e.g., kidnappings, rapes, and scary media events, as opposed to fantasy things such as witches, monsters, etc.)
  • more realistic job expectations
  • more responsibilities (e.g., mowing the lawn, delivering papers, collecting firewood and shoveling snow)
  • more tolerance to movie, television and video game violence and other content

While these traits may sound similar to those of adolescents, tweens think more similarly to kids than they do to adolescents, and these traits are still much undeveloped.

Many schools attempt to develop these feelings through the use of lessons tailored specifically to tweens' developing worldview. For example, debates on touchy moral issues (e.g., abortion) are sometimes introduced in the upper elementary school grades, as are classes on current events.

Tweens are also known for their brand consumption, and are a heavily targeted market of many advertisers. Their tendency to buy brand-name items may be due to a desire to fit in, although the desire is not as strong as it is with adolescents. Many of these brands names fall under clothing and music.

In any event, if you are the parent of a tween, then I’m very sure you can use some help (unless you are Dr. Phil), so here you go…

Parenting Tweens: 25 Tips for Moms and Dads—

1. Adjust bedtimes according to your kid's behavior that day. For each infraction, they must go to bed five minutes earlier, but if they've been good, they can earn the right to stay up an extra five minutes.

2. Be ready to talk when your preadolescent needs to. Your child will continue to come to you if she knows you're likely to listen to her without jumping in to judge unimportant details.

3. When your youngster was a toddler or preschooler -- or maybe even as recently as a year ago -- you could pretty much get her to do what you wanted with positive reinforcement (e.g., praising her for being good, showering her with stickers) and the occasional time-out. With a preadolescent, however, most moms and dads find they have to bring out the big guns. Very few older children are likely to change their behavior based on, say, the promise of an ice cream cone if they can go a week without stomping around the house. Taking away a favorite activity (e.g., Xbox or cell phone) is the best consequence when tweens talk back or mumble something rude under their breath. Whatever you do decide, follow through. Once you don't do what you say, they'll take total advantage, and you'll lose your upper hand again.

4. You'll need to come up with some new rules as your preadolescent exercises his growing independence. Start by figuring out what's most important to you (e.g., right and wrong, honesty, grades, etc.), and let go of stuff that doesn't matter in the long-run (e.g., keeping his room neat, wearing clean socks, etc.).

5. Make sure your kid knows when she’s crossed the line. For example, ignore eye-rolling or heavy sighs, but if she calls you a “bitch” and walks off in the middle of a conversation, that gets a consequence. Communicate as clearly and as calmly as you can as soon as any unacceptable behavior begins. Try not to wait until it's out of control and your kid is screaming that she hates you.

6. As much as your youngster wants (and needs) to begin separating from you, he's still a kid and wants (and needs) to have a safety net. So provide one.

7. If a job is not done diligently, have your youngster practice doing it. She'll learn to be more thorough if she's made to sweep the floor three times because her first effort wasn't good enough.

8. If you repeatedly open the door to your youngster's room only to catch him in an act of disobedience, take your youngster's bedroom door off the hinges. It sounds harder to do than it actually is. And it works wonders!

9. If your tween gets too hyper, come up with a code word to remind him to stop the action without embarrassing him. For example, whenever he starts getting too rowdy in a group, yell, "Hey, Batman." He will know he needs to calm down before you have to take more drastic measures.

10. If your youngster likes to stomp off to his room or stomp around in anger, send him outside to the driveway and tell him to stomp his feet for one minute. He'll be ready to quit after about 15 seconds, but make him stomp even harder.

11. Include your tween in decision making and involve him in conversations about your own life so that he knows he has a valuable contribution to make to your life. This confirms for him a sense of belonging in your family and builds his respect and self-esteem.

12. When a "discussion" between you and your preadolescent leads to screaming or hysterics, step back and wait for things to calm down. Encouraging your youngster to take a break from a situation is a good way to defuse high emotions all around.

13. The “tween years” is not the time to try to be your youngster's best friend. Despite appearances to the contrary, he's looking to you to help him get through this confusing stage. Ultimately, he'll take his cues for how to behave from the way that you deal with a given situation.

14. Make a homemade “consequence jar” and fill it with slips of paper with various consequences written on them. Instead of giving your youngster a time-out, send her to the jar for a slip (e.g., no TV or computer for a night, early bedtime, an extra chore, etc.).

15. Next time your youngster "forgets" to put something away (e.g., video games, sports equipment, etc.), put it away for him. When he asks where it is, tell him that he'll just have to look for it. He will learn that it's a lot more trouble to find something that you’ve hidden than it is to put it away in the first place.

16. One way to handle a tantrum is to simply say, "That is too disruptive for this house. You may continue your fit in the backyard. When you're finished, you are welcome to come back inside." When there isn't an audience, the thrill of throwing a tantrum is gone.

17. Peer pressure will become greater. Be sure you're still the one he can trust to talk to, because you are attentive and have time for him. Be understanding and sensitive to his feelings, and be sure to hold back from impulsive reactions, snap decisions and judgments.

18. Share openly with your tween so that she will know you are human and accessible when the difficult issues begin to come up for her.

19. Seek immediate help if your tween’s behavior is truly threatening. Once the crisis is averted and after ensuring everyone's safety, the first thing you should do is sit down and talk. Try to identify "things" your youngster values. This may include bicycle time, controlling the music choices in the car, or freedom to stay up until a certain time. These "things" are your tools. When you know what these tools are, use them as rewards and consequences.

20. Take your preadolescent out for breakfast or invite him along to walk the dog, just the two of you. Don't push an agenda, but do let your youngster lead the conversation, even if he just wants to chatter on about that video game he's addicted to. You never know where the conversation might lead -- and even if it goes nowhere, you'll get points for listening.

21. Take time to participate in your tween’s activities and the events she's passionate about even if you're not interested in them. Celebrate her! This lets her know that she is important to you, and it builds the bond between the two of you.

22. Timers set definite boundaries. For example, with a timer, you can say, "I'm setting the timer. I want the dishes unloaded in 10 minutes. If you haven't finished by then, your consequence is _____." This method not only spurs on easily distracted kids, but it also leaves little room for arguing about a job that isn't finished and whether the consequence is warranted.

23. Remember that consequences should fit the situation. Too often, moms and dads respond to a youngster's misbehavior with too harsh a punishment. A youngster grounded for 2 weeks for a minor offense may have trouble seeing the end of such a consequence and may lose all incentive to improve his or her behavior.

24. Remember that consequences should be immediate. An immediate consequence makes it clear to your youngster what behavior caused the reward or consequence.

25. Your preadolescent should be moving away and out into the world. Your job is to move with him, not away from him. Recommit to maintaining a close relationship so that no matter what he does, you're not far from him.

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