The pre-teen era is an exciting transformational journey for your child. It’s also an opportunity for you to really live, laugh and learn with them, polishing up on your own life skills so you can help them confidently navigate, fully engage with, contribute to the big, wide world. Alarmingly, it seems our 9 to 12 year olds of both sexes are keener than ever to fast-forward through these years to racing to become fully-fledged teenagers. According to Steve Biddulph, renowned author of Raising Girls ‘Our 14 is now their 10!’ Small wonder when the media subjects this age group to such massive consumer pressure. Yet, at the same time, pre-teens are still finding their feet, experimenting with their emerging characters and developing personal strengths and skills.
Empathy is your ACE Card – what is it like to be my child in my family and our society today?
Do you remember what it felt like to be a pre-teen? Were you generally secure and happy, with friends and parents who understood and inspired you or were you lacking in confidence and concerned about not measuring up? These days such anxiety is heightened by the media as pre-teens compare themselves physically, intellectually or financially to the likes of Jessie J, Beyonce, Brian Cox or Richard Branson. Add to this potent mix the constant academic pressure and acute self-consciousness as everything they do and say is put under the most unforgiving microscope, it’s no wonder they feel pretty touchy. It’s feelings that drive their behaviour so let your empathy for your pre-teen guide your attitude towards them.
Update your parenting style- but remain vigilant!
Let your pre-teen express their choices over things that are important to them (clothes, weekend bedtimes, music, television programmes) but discuss their suitability. Encourage them to stand up for themselves in a positive, respectful manner, practicing different ways of saying “no” effectively and negotiating positively, so, when the time comes, they are able to resist pressure to indulge in substance experimentation or underage sex. At the same time, be aware of the possibility of forays into smoking, drinking and drug-taking. A great website for parents to gain knowledge on the current drug trends and issues that young people can be exposed to is www.talktofrank.com.
Keep communication channels open
Be prepared to do this even when faced with moodiness, backchat, general ‘diva-like’ behaviour.
- LISTEN! Your pre-teen needs you emotionally now more than ever but you need to be less ‘hands-on’ and more ‘on-tap’. Make time to be emotionally available and REALLY listen, giving them time to finish what they are saying, reflecting back what they’ve said to ensure you have understood correctly and valuing their opinion. Agree to disagree, where necessary, and teach them that skill too! Admit when you are wrong and apologise. More than ever, you are now leading by example and, if we are doing this well, your pre-teen is likely to be reflecting back to us the life skills and values you have instilled in them.
- Have I praised my tweens today? Make a point of praising them often, remark upon the positives, their humour, their personality, fantastic smile and save disapproval for the really important stuff. Try to end each day on a golden nugget moment you tried hard today well done ‘. Watch out for signs of extreme anxiety or low mood and seek help if necessary.
Discuss and agree ground rules.
Decide what pre-teen behaviours are acceptable and not acceptable within your family unit and suitable sanctions for non-compliance. Discuss and agree these with your partner. Explain these ground rules to your pre-teen, finding out their thoughts and feelings and, if necessary, role modelling compromise. For instance, if they are insisting that 9pm is too early to go to bed, then compromise with later bedtimes at weekends, as long as homework and chores are done. Explain the sanctions for non-co-operation and stick to them! Be prepared to revisit and discuss ground rules regularly.
- Notice their Tastes. The music, films, You-Tube clips, comedians and fashion that your pre-teen favours can be topics of conversation and give you valuable insight into what they are thinking. What are they saying and how? Who are their role models? What values are they accepting and rejecting? What and who do they feel strongly about?
- Make Regular Time to Connect. Nominate weekly family time or a parent/pre-teen evening or Saturday morning, and plan an activity like swimming, walking the dog or going out for coffee, during which conversation could flow easily. Walking and talking side-on to your pre-teen works well, taking the pressure off the conversation.
Give them responsibility.
Ensure pre-teens take responsibility for the smooth-running of their own routine, such as putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, hanging up school uniform, cleaning shoes, putting PE, swimming gear or school bags away. This helps them develop time management skills. Discuss and agree a homework routine alongside guidelines on television and computer time, socialising and clubs and classes.
Karen Henfrey, Chrysalis Family Wellbeing Consultancy offers family coaching sessions parenting workshops and holistic relationship courses. For more information, visit www.chrysalisparenting.co.uk