The “sweet spot” of parenting abruptly comes to a halt when your child becomes a tween. It’s loud and messy and sometimes very ugly. Ah, the cacophony of the tweenage years.
Tweens are often compared to oversized toddlers – and for good reason. Both toddlers and tweens are going through an intense period of growth: emotionally, physically, and mentally. Both are learning who they are, pushing limits, and trying out new skills.
Fortunately, you are already well-equipped to handle this new territory. Because, with a few adaptations, the parenting techniques that worked for your toddlers can also help with your tweens:
1. Stock up on snacks. This tip might be the most important. Tweens need extra calories to keep up with their bodies’ growing needs. The snacks will differ from when they were small, but you still need to keep them well-fed. Be prepared to find chip bag carcasses, sticky cups, and the remnants of food all around the house; it’s a small price to pay to keep the beasts appeased.
2. Give them their space. Tweens need their alone time. Take advantage of it to give yourself some quiet as well. Check in on them from time to time, but back away slowly and carefully.
3. Let them sleep. Ensuring your tweens get enough rest is absolutely essential. It doesn’t matter where they sleep … the car, the couch, the floor. Anywhere is acceptable. Just let them be. Cleaning drool from the couch cushions? Totally worth it.
4. Give them the illusion of choice. “You can do the dishes or the laundry. You pick.” It works every time. Well, almost every time.
5. Use bribes liberally. Call them “incentives” if you need to rationalize them. The bribes change over the years (and become more expensive as they become tweenagers), but they are well worth the investment to reward desired behavior. Don’t feel guilty about it for even one minute.
6. Accept that their behavior will be irrational at times. There are massive amounts of hormones RAGING in their bodies. They are exploring new territory (and sometimes reacting very poorly). You won’t understand it. Just give them a safe place to go a little crazy.
7. Set firm boundaries. You are going to have some absolutes. Make those known. Loudly. Then don’t back down.
8. Walk away from the tantrums. Tweens will try to drag you back in with the “I HATE YOU!” technique, but you need to ignore that shit. Seriously. Walk away. Until you both calm down.
9. Praise, praise, praise. Tell them what they did right. Tell them how much you love to watch them perform/play/compete/etc. Tell them how proud you are of them. Feeding their ego is critical (in preparation for the times you need to take them down a notch).
10. Find their currency. Figure out what they most care about … and then take it away when they behave badly. It works like magic. Use Wi-Fi passwords liberally.
11. Remember they’re always listening. Kids don’t miss a thing, and they will repeat your words and actions. It may have been funny when your 3-year-old yelled “FUCK!” at the family holiday party, but it’s no longer humorous when your tween gets suspended for the same behavior.
12. Watch them like hawks. When they were toddlers, you were trying to keep them from eating books and painting the walls with their feces. Now that they’re tweens, you’re trying to protect them from much bigger and much scarier dangers. Don’t take your eyes off of them.
13. Tell them you love them. Show them too. Sure, tweens won’t appear to appreciate your words the way toddlers did. But they need to hear them. Every single day. Even when they roll their eyes at you. Especially when they roll their eyes at you.