While we are awaiting our children to outgrow their childhood phase and enter the much-dreaded period of adolescence, we forget to observe that the change has already begun. What happens when our offspring is neither a child nor a teenager? There are times when they talk back and act out as a typical teenager would; while at other times they are still as innocent, as naughty as when they were younger. They are transitioning, they are transforming, they are ‘tweens’.
Also known as preteens or pre-adolescents, this age-group typically comprises of those between 9-12 years. The world is unfurling in front of them – slowly yet steadily. They are trying to understand, grasp, and question the intricacies of emotions, relationships. They are developing not just physically and cognitively but also emotionally and socially.
The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud called this phase ‘latency’ where in the child begins to focus on channelizing her energy to develop oneself. This is a stage of relative calm and stability wherein the tweens get busy developing their social skills and take on new intellectual pursuits. Latency is when they develop their sense-of-self and self-confidence by honing their communication skills and social-interactions.
Erik Erikson – world-renowned developmental psychologist, categorised these years as a time when the virtue of ‘Competence’ gets developed. Tweens either develop ‘Industry’ (if they are encouraged and praised) or ‘Inferiority’ (if they are restricted often) and peer-group, friends & teachers have a major influence on their self-esteem.
As parents of these ‘children in transition’, here is how we can raise emotionally healthy tweens:
Give them your time: Probably the most important ‘thing’ we can give our tween is our time. Listen to them without distractions, discuss with them, play with them, lend them your shoulder when they need to cry, or share their highs – just be there, 100 percent, mindfully.
Co-view the screen: Be it the T.V. shows that they watch or the YouTube channel they are subscribing to, be a part of the process. If you are not, not only will you miss out on the values they are absorbing but will also be appalled by the amount and kind of content they can get exposed to. Needless to say, the later they get introduced to social media, the better.
Respect their wishes: There will be times when your tween just doesn’t join a class a want him to, or doesn’t want to go to that friend’s party. Respect that. Discuss the reasons and if they are reasonable enough let the tween have his way. Make him feel that he is a part of the decision-making process and things are not imposed upon him arbitrarily.
Know their friends: Friends and peers have the greatest amount of influence on your preteen’s emotional health which makes it important to know the kinds she is hanging out with. Self-esteem, positive body image, civic sense, manners, interest in academics are just some of the aspects which peers impact in a big way. However, remember there is a fine line between monitoring and being overprotective.
Teach them to be responsible: Slowly, we need to stop doing their work for them, be it making their bed, clearing their room, or even helping them with their homework all the time. Not just that, irrespective of their gender they should be learning to contribute to the functioning of the house and taking on small/simple responsibilities like setting the dining table, putting the dishwasher, or even quickly bringing something from the grocery store. A responsible tween today will grow up to be an independent adult tomorrow.
Instil the importance of healthy living: Before they step into teenage, our tweens need to appreciate the role healthy living should play in our lives – and two most aspects of it at personal level are good personal hygiene and nutritious eating. Extending this concept to the environment, tweens should be encouraged to embrace environmentally conscious habits.
Calm your own nerves: Re-centre yourself if you lose it – which will be often. Walk away from the situation before you explode and regret it later. Bringing up a child is never easy. But before anything else, put yourself and your needs at a priority. To love your tweens unconditionally, you must first learn to love yourself unconditionally.
Before teenage kicks in, and brings along its own sets of challenges, it is important that we help our tweens build a rock-solid foundation of good habits, discipline, and values. They are learning and soaking up all that comes their way and as parents, we need to ensure we are raising kind, nurturing, and moral human beings.