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What Child Therapists Wish Parents Knew about Tweens

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
The tween years throw many parents for a loop. Suddenly their sweet-tempered, easygoing child turns into an argumentative mess of emotions. What’s going on?
Elizabeth Newlin, MD, a psychiatrist and director of The Menninger Clinic’s Adolescent Treatment Program (ATP) and Jennifer Crawford, PhD, an ATP staff psychologist, offer insight on this tumultuous time in a child’s life – roughly between the ages of nine and 12. Here’s what they wish parents knew about tweens.
Drama is normal – roll with it
While some tweens naturally are more dramatic than others, all tweens go through the same rapid changes in hormonal, cognitive and emotional development. That’s why a misunderstanding with a friend (“She hates me!”) or disagreement with a parent (“You never let me do anything!”) takes on a heightened sense of importance. Rather than be drawn into the drama, Dr. Newlin recommends parents stay calm, cool and collected.
“When parents maintain a calm and curious stance about what their children are experiencing, they gives tweens the opportunity to slow down and regain their capacity for self-reflection, more flexible thinking and problem solving,” Dr. Newlin says.
It’s OK if they make mistakes
Hating to see their children mess up, parents often swoop in for the rescue. However, making mistakes helps tweens learn important problem-solving skills. “When tweens learn they can do things for themselves, they are rewarded with a powerful sense of their own competency – a confidence that they are smart and capable beings,” Dr. Crawford says. “They become stronger, more resilient and less dependent.”
Tweens think they must be perfect
The pressure to be perfect in our society comes from many sources including social media, television, school, coaches and even family and friends. “Tweens are given the message that they are only valued because of how much they accomplish or achieve. Failure is not an option,” Dr. Crawford says. “They need to know that there is beauty in their imperfection and that they are loved unconditionally, regardless of their mistakes, level of achievement or lapses in their judgment.”
They still need Mom and Dad
Tweens crave more independence, and many parents take a step back during the tween years to give it to them. But tweens need enormous support as they enter the challenging and tempting social landscape of adolescence, Dr. Newlin says. “All tweens benefit from a wise adult to sit with them and allow them to make choices while ensuring their safe passage through the turmoil ahead.”