Helping Our Child through Pre-teen years - How to Be an Effective Parent

Children in the age range of 9 - 12 years are considered Pre-teens. During this phase of life, kids go though lots of changes - both Physical and Emotional. Parents need to be aware of these changes and handle these growing kids with empathy and understanding.

You got through the infant stage, then the terrible twos...And you thought, "they are grown now, I have got it all covered!"

But then you are become parent to a pre-teen!! A completely different stage where the child you knew starts to change little by little!

The typical preteen years range from nine to twelve years old. The onset of puberty brings an influx of hormones and new changes that characterize these transitional years. Preteens, also known as tweens, are aged temperamentally between a child and a teen.

During this time, children go through many changes – physical, social, emotional and cognitive. Their bodies, emotions and ideas about themselves develop and change at different pace.  

Some become a little too adventurous, whereas some start challenging status quo. These changes vary from child to child. But one thing is constant. It is a stressful time for both parents as well as the child to navigate through so many changes.

As parents, we all want to be there for our child during his or her pre-teen years. Before we can support them well, it's a good idea to learn about the changes they're going through.

So, let's get started.

Changes during preteen years

Brain Development during this phase

When children are young, their brains go through a major growth surge. Their brains are roughly 90-95 percent of adult size by the time they reach the age of six. Although the early years are crucial for brain development, the brain still requires extensive remodeling before it can operate as an adult brain.

Age, experience, and hormone changes all influence brain development.

During preteen years, your child's brain undergoes extensive remodeling, which lasts until they are in their early 20s. The final part of the brain, prefrontal cortex, is strongly linked to the areas that govern and manage emotions, and it is the last part of the brain to mature.  

Prefrontal cortex is the portion of the brain that makes decisions and is in charge of your child's capacity to plan and think about the implications of actions, solve problems, and control urges.

Have you noticed that your child's thinking and behavior appears to be quite mature at times, but at other times, their thinking appears most irrational, impulsive, or emotional? These shifts and alterations are explained by the brain's back-to-front growth – preteens are functioning with brains that are still developing.

This means your child eventually may have difficulty in controlling some of their more powerful emotions, and they may react to situations more forcefully than before. They're still learning how to properly analyze and express their emotions.

Need for Identity and Independence

Until now, you may have been the primary decision maker for your child, Right?

However, from now on you may need to offer them a little more room to explore by themself. Let’s see what changes you might face in terms of identity and independence.  

  • When your child reaches the tween years, though, he or she may begin to demand independence and the ability to choose their own path. You might notice, for example, that your child begins to do their homework at their preferred times rather than the time you suggested.
  • Your kid is going to be preoccupied with determining who they are and where they belong in the world. Your child may be experimenting with new clothing styles, subcultures, music, art, or friendship groupings. Friends, family, the media, and society are all factors that influence your child's decision-making during these years.
  • Your child will most likely desire more autonomy in terms of how they travel around and where they go, how they spend their time and who they spend it with, and how they spend money.
  • As your child becomes more independent, your family routines and connections, as well as your child's friendships, will most likely change.

Wants Responsibility and New Experiences

Your child may want to fulfill greater responsibilities at home and at school. Choosing clothes alone, caring for younger siblings, and beginning to think in new ways are just a few examples.  

You may be wondering what you should do now. Correct?  

Well, you should both encourage and facilitate their shift towards new responsibilities at times.

Your child is likely to seek out new experiences (including those that might be potentially dangerous). This is typical when your child tests their own talents and limits, as well as the ones you establish for them. This is also a means for your child to express himself or herself as a separate person. However, by this way their brain develops.

For this reason, your child may have difficulty thinking for the repercussions and risks before trying something new.

New thoughts, feelings, friends, and responsibilities can all have an impact on how your child feels.

As they progress towards independence, your child is learning to solve more difficulties on their own. Your child is also spending more time in their own brain than usual, and is preoccupied with issues such as friendships, school, and family ties.

Adapts Values and Influences

This is the stage when your child begins to form a more distinct set of values and morals. Your child will ask more specific questions.  

Most importantly, your child's perception of good and wrong is shaped by your words and deeds.

Your child's behavior, appearance, interests, sense of self, and self-esteem may be influenced severely by friends and classmates. You might see your child asking for things that s/he find her friend using.  

The way your child talks with peers and learns about the world might be influenced by the internet and social media. This might provide a lot of advantages for your child's social development, but they also have some drawbacks.  

The greatest method to safeguard your child from social media dangers and assure their internet safety is to talk with them.

Starts Experiencing more Complex Emotions

This age group's children may:

  • Start to form stronger, more complex friendships and peer relationships. They'll feel increased peer pressure.
  • Your child’s mind is altering in response to the feelings they’re experiencing as a result of what their body is going through. Many kinds of emotions become more intense. They'll react to situations differently than usual, and you may not even be aware of it.  
  • As puberty approaches, he or she will become more aware of his or her body. Around this age, body image and eating issues can emerge.  
  • Your child's moods may be unpredictable, and they may express powerful sensations and emotional emotions. Part of the reason for your child's emotional ups and downs is that his or her brain is still learning how to control and express emotions in a mature manner.

Becomes Sensitive to Others

Your child will get more adept at understanding and comprehending the emotions of others as they grow older.  

However, as your child develops these abilities, they may misinterpret facial emotions or body language. This means they may require assistance in determining how others are feeling.

Develops Self-consciousness and Decision-making Ability

The way your child starts thinking about himself has a big impact on their self-esteem. Your child may get self-conscious about their physical appearance as they grow older. Your child may also compare their physical appearance and capacities to that of their classmates and peers. Your child's decision-making abilities are still developing, and they're learning that their choices have repercussions and, on occasion, risks.

Craves Social Validation and Connection  

One of the most noticeable changes is your child's desire to spend more time with friends and peers and less time with family.

At the same time, it may appear like you and your child are fighting more. In the coming days, you might face misunderstanding in decision-making.

It's natural for children to want more independence. It's also because your child is becoming more abstract in his or her thinking and questioning other points of view. Also, your child may unintentionally upset others since they do not always understand how their words and actions influence others.

It may be helpful to know that conflict peaks in early pre-puberty and that these changes indicate that your child starts maturing into their own person. Even if you think you're battling with your child a lot right now, it's unlikely to have a long-term impact on your relationship.  

However, understanding how to calm down your child and establishing conflict resolution skills will help you get through this phase of your relationship.

Signs that your Tweens might need help with their Emotional Health

It's common for tweens and teenagers to suffer negative moods, lack ambition, and have difficulty sleeping. These symptoms aren't usually indicative of a mental health issue.  

So, how can we determine if there's a problem?

However, if you observe any of the following symptoms and they persist for more than a few weeks, you should speak with your child and if needed seek professional assistance.

Mental health warning signals for children under the age of 12 include:

  • Persistent depression  
  • Reduction in academic performance  
  • Continuous worries or fears  
  • Aches and pains that don't go away soon  
  • Loss of appetite or food pickiness  
  • Difficulties fitting in at school or getting along with other children.
  • History of violent or persistently disobedient behavior, or a history of temper tantrums
  • Sleep issues, such as nightmares

How you can Help your child through Pre-teen years

1. Strengthening their Emotional Skills

As your child grows, they may come across numerous intense emotions such as grief, humiliation, and shame more frequently.

Preteens may lack the capacity to understand, express and manage emotions in an adult manner due to their developing brains. As a result, pre-teens and teenagers still require assistance in understanding and managing their emotions.  

Here are some suggestions for improving your preteen's capacity to recognize and manage emotions during the preteen years.  

  • Intervene when you notice emotions escalating. The sooner your child recognizes their emotional shifts, the easier it will be for them to keep their behavior under control.
  • Assist your child in recognizing early indications of intense emotions. ‘When I was in traffic yesterday, my heart was racing and I felt quite hot,' for example. Is that something you experience when you're frustrated?'
  • Discuss with your child what you do if you recognize indicators of powerful emotions building up. ‘When I start to get particularly furious with myself, I focus on something I'm really proud of instead,' for example. Is it something you'd be interested in?'
  • Create a list of activities with your child that they can do when they see intense emotions building up, such as talk with you, listen to music on headphones, or just sit calmly. Include as many possibilities as possible so that your child can pick the ones that feel right in different scenarios.

2. Helping them to Calm down while experiencing strong emotions

Preteens and teenagers experience and express a wide range of emotions.  

For example, they may become angry if something appears to be unjust, or disappointed if something does not go as planned.

These feelings can be debilitating.  

Pre-teens and teenagers' ability to deal with emotions might be influenced by their personality or specific situations such as family changes or stress from schoolwork or relationships.

Here are five steps to assist your child in calming down after experiencing a strong emotion:

Step 1: Recognize and Identify the Emotion

If your child appears to be having trouble calming down then Stop!

Before you do or say anything else, pay attention to what your child's behavior is telling you about their feelings.

Here are some suggestions to help you recognize your child's emotions:

  • Try to maintain your composure and pay attention to what your child is saying. If your child performs poorly on an assessment, for example, they may be disappointed. They may, however, claim that the teacher despises them or that their tasks leave them with insufficient time to study.
  • Try visualizing or recalling yourself in a similar situation to put yourself in their shoes. Think about how you feel when you make a mistake at work, for example.
  • Have patience. To recognize your child's emotions, you may require a lot of practice.
Step 2: Give the Emotion a Name and Connect with it

The next step is to categorize the emotion and link it to the event. ‘I believe you are frustrated and disappointed with that grade,' for example. This will help your child realize what they're feeling and why they're feeling it.  

When your child is sad, it can be difficult for them to figure out what feeling they are experiencing, especially if they are still learning to define their emotions. So instead of asking, "Are you furious?" you may respond, "You seem really angry."

Step 3: Take a breath and say Nothing

Allowing your child to process what you've just said by pausing and saying nothing for a few minutes. This break may require to allow them to relax. They could also address the problem on their own. ‘I believe I did not put much effort into studying,' for example. I'll put in more effort on the next task.

Step 4: Support your child to calm down

If your child is agitated, they may require additional time to settle down. They may, for example, continue to yell or act out aggressively. You can help them if you remain calm during the process. Just hold on!

Step 5: Deal with the problem

What you do once your child has cooled down will be determined by the circumstances, such as what prompted the outburst and how your child was acting.

Here are a few recommendations:

  • If it's acceptable, ask your child if they'd want some problem-solving assistance. Identifying the problem is the first step in problem-solving.
  • Recognize your child's feelings but avoid a debate if he or she is upset over a rule that you won't or can't change. ‘I know you're upset since you won't be able to attend that party,' for example. However, we don't want you to go to parties where there isn't any adult supervision.'
  • If your child is engaging in physically or verbally destructive behavior, make it clear that this is not acceptable. For instance, "It's not OK to speak to me like that,".
  • Provide comfort, validation and reassurance to your child if they require it. 'That was a scary thing to happen,' for example, or 'I'm sorry to see you so sad.' 'Would you like to be hugged?'

3. Helping preteens to build self-compassion

To help your child develop self-compassion, you can follow these three steps.

Step 1: Pause and Notice

When your child is upset, or disappointed because things haven't gone their way and they're being hard on themselves, take a moment to notice. Your child, for example, may be upset with the way a haircut turned out or sad and abashed that someone they care about does not understand their feelings.  

Step 2: Let your child know that it's okay to struggle with things

Let your child know that it's fine if things are difficult for him or her, and that everyone makes errors. It's also fine to be sad, angry, disappointed, or frustrated - but being harsh on yourself isn't.

You may say something like, "It's normal to be uncomfortable with your body at times, but it doesn't imply you're unattractive." Alternatively, you may say, "I'm sorry they don't feel the same way about you, but you're still a lovable person." Alternatively, ‘We all say things without thinking about them.' Perhaps you could consider how you could improve it.'

Step 3: Encourage your child to Compliment themselves

Ask your child what they would say to a buddy who has made a mistake or is going through a difficult period. Here are some alternatives for your child to consider:

• I’m doing the best I can  

• I’m a good person.

• 'We all make mistakes from time to time.'

• 'It's difficult, but I'm going to keep trying.'

• 'I'm sure I'll be able to learn something from this.'

This practice will eventually develop self-compassionate among the kids.

4. Helping your child to build Confidence

Confidence is the belief that you will succeed or make the best decision possible in a given situation. Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back from adversity and cope in challenging or stressful situations. Your child will feel more confident in dealing with difficult situations if s/he develops resilience and learns to adapt when life is unpleasant.  

It's a win-win situation.

Here are some suggestions for helping your child develop confidence and resilience.

Allow your child to experiment with new things with your guidance

When your child explores a variety of activities, s/he will learn what s/he excels at and what he enjoys. He'll also learn that most individuals are good at certain things and bad at others, which is great. After all, not everyone can be an Olympic athlete, a video game champion, or a musical genius.

Encourage your child to persevere in his or her efforts

Help your child understand that everyone makes mistakes if she fails at something. It's fine if you fail the first time you try anything. You could give some examples of times when you've failed or needed to persevere in your efforts.

Demonstrate your self-confidence 

When it comes to confidence, you can be a role model. You may, for example, discuss with your child what you'll do to try to succeed at a task. If it doesn't work out, you can demonstrate resilience by discussing what you'll do next time.

Encourage your child to be self-confident

Acting confident is the first step in feeling self-assured. So, you may tell your child to make eye contact with others, be assertive, do what he loves, avoid focusing on what he can't do, and walk away from circumstances he knows aren't good.

Praise your child for his or her efforts

If your child's exam, interview, or game doesn't go as planned, try to praise him for the effort he put into the activity rather than the outcome.

5. Assisting preteens to manage Emotional ups and downs

It's natural for life to have ups and downs, even for preteens. You won't be able to prevent your child from feeling down.  

However, there are certain things you can do to assist your child in coping with the ups and downs.

Helping your child accept ups and downs

Knowing that emotional ups and downs are natural can be quite beneficial to your child. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to tell your child that you, too, become down at times.

It's also crucial for your child to know that you'll be there for them when they're down or going through a difficult moment.  

Simply saying, "I see you're having a terrible day," May I help?

Stay attached with your child

When children feel safe, they are more willing to open up.

Staying engaged and actively listening to what's going on in your child's life will help you spot the triggers for their emotional ups and downs more quickly.  

Sometimes the ideal times for your child to share things with you are during informal, ordinary activities like driving your child somewhere or watching TV together.

Giving your child their own space

Preteens start to become independent and take on new challenges. Start giving your child space or time alone to reflect about new feelings and experiences while he or she is doing this. Also, make it clear to your child that you will be available if they need to chat.

Holding off on solutions

If there is a problem, talking about solutions with your child. Give them the space to suggest the solution so that they can feel like they "own" it. If your child believes the answer came from them, they will be more willing to try it.

Take-Away Parenting Tips

  • Assist your child in developing a personal sense of right and wrong. Talk to him about potentially unsafe things that his peers might encourage him to do, such as smoking or participating in dangerous physical dares.
  • Make an effort to spend time with your child. Discuss about her friends, her accomplishments, and the obstacles she will face next. 
  • Do things as a family and be compassionate and honest with your child.
  • Discuss with your child what you anticipate from her (behavior) when there are no adults present. If you explain why rules are in place, it will be easier for her to figure out what to do in most instances.
  • Assist your child in establishing his own objectives. Encourage him to consider what skills and abilities he would like to acquire, as well as how to get them.
  • Meet the parents of your child's classmates.

Remember, you're still the most crucial role model for your child. Your child will look to you for guidance on how to deal with adversity. Consider how your child perceives how you deal with difficulties and also your coping mechanisms.  

Children learn from their parents. What they see, they learn. And, it inherits for the rest of one's life. So, the line “being a role model” implies much more than it appears.  

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