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Coping with the Preteen Years

I cannot be the only one going insane coping with the preteen years! Our daughter turns 10 today (February 22nd), and her emotions are all over the place. One minute she’s angry; the next, she’s happy; and the minute after that, she’s crying. And it’s nearly a daily occurrence.

All the changes.

There are so many things these preteens are going through (typically between the ages of nine and twelve), dozens upon dozens of changes…sometimes even day-to-day. Their bodies are physically starting to change, and this can be a very confusing time for them. Emotional, social, and cogitative changes are wreaking havoc on their brains. Overall, preteens tend to be basket cases 99% of the time and trying to navigate their emotional roller coasters as parents is exhausting.

Mornings tend to be some of the toughest times for us. There’s almost always yelling and crying, most of the time, from both of us. We’ve tried several different approaches to morning time routines. When things start getting better in a new routine, things inevitably take a turn for the worse after a week or two. And when things are good, they’re really good. Often we find ourselves discussing how fantastic the morning went and that we really want to continue to have great mornings. Then…BAM! It’s like a light switch that goes off with her, and the procrastination, back talk, not listening, and overall poor attitude is front and center again.

Patience is a virtue.

Admittedly, I have little patience regarding the attitude she projects…especially in the morning. I am trying to get my day started, too. Shower, dress, breakfast, get ready to start my work day…and then deal with her. My anxiety and blood pressure spikes are likely astronomical on those bad mornings.

At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that she’s going through a lot right now. And although she still needs to be held accountable for how she acts, I can afford to provide a little grace. I have been doing a ton of research on how to handle the preteen years. I found several great articles, but one in particular really hit the nail on the head: 10 Parenting Tips for Preteens and Tweens, written for the Child Mind Institute by Juliann Garey. It has helped me understand where she’s at right now and what I can do to help our relationship through these formative years.

1. Don’t feel rejected by their newfound independence.

The article explains that some kids during these years start distancing themselves from their parents and they start relying more on their friends. One of the experts, Juliann Garey, stated that some parents feel they are being “rejected” by their child and assume their child is being difficult or displaying “oppositional behavior” tendencies. Parents need to understand and learn that their child is essentially growing up and learning who they are as an individual moving through the universe.

Our experience has not been this…if anything; it’s the opposite. Our daughter was in first grade when Covid hit, and school was canceled from spring break through the rest of the school year. Then add summer on top, and here in Cedar Rapids a delay in school starting due to damage from the Derecho that summer. She became incredibly dependent on us, especially me. Working from home and having her here 100% of the time meant she never wanted me to leave; she didn’t want to go anywhere without me, and the start of second grade was incredibly traumatic. There was definitely a regression of sorts when it came to discovering her independence; we will welcome it when she finds it again!

2. Set aside particular time with your child.

One-on-one time with your child is an excellent way to work on connecting with your preteen at least once or twice a week. Step away from electronics and screens – find something interesting to them, and enjoy doing that activity together. Lately, it’s been slime-making in our household. I have learned all the tricks of the trade from her, and I now make a very “satisfying” and “beautiful” slime, so my daughter says. Sometimes she even opens up and talks to me about what’s going on in her life. What’s been on her mind. How school has been. And things she’s excited about. It’s magical.

3. Try the indirect approach.

Does anyone else get the “fine” response when asking how their day was? How about “same stuff” or “nothing new” when you ask what they did at school today? I remember this stage of my life decades ago when I was so annoyed with those questions my parents asked me…and short, dismissive answers were always my go-to. Instead, one of Garey’s experts recommends just sitting down with the intent of listening and not asking questions. Many times your preteen will open up and communicate without much effort on your part…and certainly less frustration with the short one or two-word answers to questions you asked.

4. Don’t be overly judgmental.

This is a hard one for me, personally. I often tend to be a Judgey McJudgerton, mostly about poor drivers. What is very important, though, is not to be judgmental of other children around your preteen. They look and listen for your cues and will adopt those views from you for themselves.

Our daughter told us about a new kid in her class last year and how he was so terrible on his first day that it made the teacher cry. It could have been easy for me to judge the new kid, commiserate about how naughty he was, and allow my daughter to carry on about how it made the class and teacher feel.

Instead, I asked her how he might have felt on his first day at a new school with new kids and a new teacher. Plus, a new place to live in a new city and state. She responded by saying maybe he was scared or nervous. I explained we didn’t know why he moved to Cedar Rapids from Kansas. We talked about how he might be sad leaving his friends at his old school. We talked about how some people would cry in his situation and how some people would be angry and act out as he did.

But ultimately, he was dealing with a lot of feelings and emotions, and although being angry isn’t always the most productive way to deal with those feelings, but that he had them, and it was ok to feel angry about what he was going through. Teaching our daughter to be empathetic instead of judgmental is important.

5. Watch what they watch with them.

Kids have so much more exposure to things beyond their years, which can make it hard when coping with the preteen years. YouTube, social media, iPads, cell phones, etc. They are being influenced by things we never were at that age. In addition, they see ways others treat people through what they watch…sometimes good, sometimes bad. It’s our responsibility to help them recognize when behaviors they are observing cross lines and to direct them back to ways it should have been done differently.

6. Don’t be afraid to start conversations about sex and drugs.

This topic can be terrifying for parents. When, how, or why we should be talking about these things with our kids, especially as early as nine, is a question many parents have to contemplate. The primary reason is that they will learn about them from their peers, if not from you first. So, as a parent, research how to approach these conversations and dive right in. Be open and honest and allow them to ask questions. Be prepared for multiple types of responses and reactions…this will help the conversation flow naturally.

7. Don’t overreact.

As a parent, it can be hard not to defend or come out swinging as a “mama bear” when your child comes home upset, especially when a peer causes it. As discussed many times here, preteens have tons of emotions. And there will be times your child has hurt feelings.

A typical scenario in which we as parents find ourselves overreacting would be your child coming home upset they weren’t invited to a birthday party for a classmate. At school, that day, several friends in class were talking about all the fun they had at the party. Unsurprisingly, this upsets your child, and that’s ok for them to feel that way. What will be important for you as the parent is to not pile onto those feelings by saying things such as, “Everyone should have been invited. I am going to call the teacher to have this addressed.”

8. Don’t be “clueless,” either.

The main point here is to listen. Please don’t ignore your child when they are opening up about what’s going on at school. Some parents ignore some of the difficult conversations because that’s “easier” for them. But when your preteen talks to you about something that concerns them or things they are questioning, put your listening hat on and react appropriately. Coping with the preteen years is about finding the right balance as a parent.

Encourage sports for girls.

As a mom, I have mixed feelings about this one. Garey points out in her article that “research shows girls who play on teams have higher self-esteem” and “have fewer body image issues.” I do personally agree and think sports are fantastic for girls and boys. But what if my daughter would rather play the piano or be a spelling bee champ? I am going to follow her lead and encourage what she’s passionate about. The lesson here should be to encourage your child to find a passion and support whatever that ends up being.

10. Nurture your boy’s emotional side.

If you have a preteen son, let him feel his emotions. “One of the tough things for boys at this age is that the messages from the culture about their capacity for love, real friendships, and relationships are so harmful to them,” says Dr. Steiner-Adair. “They say that anything to do with real feelings — love, sadness, vulnerability — is girly, therefore bad.” The stigma surrounding boys showing their emotional side needs to change. Parents should encourage their kids to express themselves; when they are upset, it’s okay to show their emotions.

Support your preteen and meet them where they are.

Coping with preteen years is something we all have to deal with if we have kids. There’s a wide variety of emotional feelings your kids have…some days it’ll be easier, some days will be harder. The thing to always remember is your preteen is going through a lot. As a parent, try to encourage it, but don’t force it. Always make them feel like they can talk to you when they want. And at the end of the day, make sure they know you love them. Sometimes that’s all they need at that moment.

Finally, hang in there as parents! Preteens grow into teens; teens grow into adults. Eventually, that distance that grew during the preteen and teenage years will get smaller, and your child will appreciate all you are as a parent. Trust me. I was on the extreme end of a crazy emotional monster as a preteen and teen. Once I went to college and realized everything, my parents did for me, my emotional attitude quickly changed into respect. And now, even more, that I am a mom, that distance has almost completely closed. I have zero clue how my mom dealt with me, and I’m sure she’s silently laughing when I express my frustrations with her about our emotional preteen daughter.


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