There’s nothing more exciting and rewarding for parents than watching their children as they grow up. Each new milestone achieved, skill mastered, and personality trait revealed is something for parents to marvel at, but as children grow up, those changes can also be a bit overwhelming and unexpected. Before kids reach the ever-exciting and sometimes scary teenage years, they must first transition through the tween years, that period of development for kids between the ages of 9 and 12. How tweens change, however, differs from kid to kid. Tween years changes are abundant, but also diverse.
The tween years can be a difficult time for kids. Some kids will develop more quickly or slowly than their peers, which often leads to a wide range of emotions as they navigate puberty. Some will rebel against those who fail to see that they are actually growing up, while others will struggle with their changing bodies and emotions. The good news is that it’s all completely normal and just one of the perks of being a tween! While it can also be difficult for parents to transition from parenting a younger child to suddenly dealing with a tween, it’s important that they be as supportive as possible. Here are 5 changes that parents can expect during the tween years and how to help kids adjust to their constantly changing bodies and minds.
It’s important to note that kids grow and develop at a variety of ages and that there’s no ‘right’ time for puberty to begin, but many will see some major physical changes occur during the tween years. As Healthline points out, having their parent let them know what to expect will help tweens mentally and physically prepare for the changes that are going to happen. During these years, kids may start to see an increase in their body hair or rapid growth spurts. Parents may find themselves shopping for clothes and shoes at an alarming rate because their tween just keeps growing out of what they have while others will be frustrated at their lack of early growth. It’s also the time when girls may start to get their period or begin to develop breasts. This is definitely the time for parents to ensure that their daughters are fully prepared if they get their period at school or anywhere outside of the home. Having a ‘period pack’ filled with supplies (and the knowledge of how to use them) and extra clothes is an important way to support your tween.
The tween years can be tough on a kid, and the age where peer pressure can become a real issue. Parents need to pay close attention to their children’s behavior during the tween years to ensure their child isn’t succumbing to new pressures from their friends and acquaintances. It’s easy for parents to assume that their tween is too young to be exposed to drugs, alcohol, or even sexual situations but the reality is they aren’t. This is the age that kids are often first exposed to many of these, according to Very Well Family, and oftentimes their curiosity can get the better of them. Bullying can also become an issue for tweens that can lead to behavioral problems if not recognized.
Raging hormones can wreak havoc not only on a tween’s physical health but on their mental health, too. Parents may notice their once attentive and loving child has become a moody, irritable tween who would rather text their friends all night than watch a favorite television show with mom and dad. Studies have shown that a boy’s testosterone level increases by as much as 30 times during puberty, which can drastically affect their moods and behaviors. Dr. Carl E Pickhardt explained in Psychology Today that how a parent reacts to their child’s emotional outbursts and mood swings is an important way in staying connected with your child. “One important challenge of parenting an adolescent is maintaining emotional sobriety—honoring hard or hot feelings with acceptance without indulging them with action,” writes Dr. Pickhardt. He reminds parents that sometimes they need to exercise “adult maturity” when dealing with hormonal tweens. “Acting upset with your upset teenager only gets that young person more upset. Thus yelling at her to stop yelling only encourages yelling by adult example, because conflict encourages similarity this way.”
Pediatrician Dr. Dipesh Navsaria knows that parents can struggle when their child hits the tween years. “Parenting tweens can be challenging for parents because their ‘little kid’ who liked to cuddle, learn about the world about them, and was generally happy can suddenly be replaced with a physically maturing, impulsive, moody human being,” Navsaria explained to Care.com. “However, it’s important to keep in mind, much of the time, this is developmentally normal.” Navsaria also explained that a tween’s brain is also changing around this phase of their development. “Tweens are able to use more logic, reason, and deduction than a younger child can,” Navsaria says. “It’s not as advanced as it would be in a teen or adult, but it’s notably different from before.” Not so different, however, that they are making fully rational, well-thought-out decisions. “The prefrontal cortex — which is the part of the brain that handles decision-making, judgment, and planning — is still relatively immature in tween and teen brains,” they add. “This explains the impulsive thinking or lack of thinking through consequences that are commonly seen in this age group.”
The tween years are the perfect time for kids to branch out and learn new things, discover new talents and passions, and make new friends. It’s important they have the support of their parents as they navigate these new interests. “The preteen years are an ever-evolving time,” licensed psychotherapist Ali Hamroff explained to Care.com. “This is when they start to explore their identity, learn more about themselves and become exposed to new things, due to an increase in time spent with friends and peers.” She notes this can be a confusing time for tweens, which is why the support of their parents is so crucial. “It’s really important for tweens and teens to feel that sense of love from their parents while they’re testing out new interests or independence.”
It can be difficult to watch your child transform before your eyes from a fun-loving toddler to an eager elementary schooler to a moody tween but it can also be a real gift to watch a child discover who they are as they grow and mature. While every child develops at their own pace, the most important thing is that their parents are there to support them, guide them, and help them through it.
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