PARENTING ISN’T FOR sissiesMy son used to call me a superstar. He was 5. I’d reached the ‘superstar’ level of the online version of Wheel of Fortune and he was proud of me. Those were the days.
Though I still catch glimpses of admiration, affection and even gratitude from my kids, five years have passed and they’re noticing and not appreciating life’s inevitable inequities and limits. I hear more "I hate you’s" than "I love you’s," these days.
It seems we’ve entered a new frontier, the so-called ‘tween’ years. This period between childhood and the teenaged years, between 8 and 13, can be a dynamic time of growth and discovery, but it can also be a potential minefield of confusion and conflict for kids and their parents.
Tweeners can swing back and forth between expressing somewhat childish needs, preferences and behaviors and more adult ones. Sometimes it feels like they’re playacting at being adult one moment and retreating back to the familiar comforts of more childlike ways of being in the world the next. They are testing the waters, but still tethered to the shore, so to speak.
Another feature of this phase, for some kids, is a tendency to react with more extreme emotional responses, hence the "I hate you’s" occasionally levied at me. For some kids this is actually more pronounced during the tween years than even the teen years, as they discern how to modulate their new emotional ranges.
Just because this is typical doesn’t mean I’m off the hook, however. Reflecting on my hand in creating frustrating circumstances and acknowledging this to my child can be quite a powerful bridge-builder—even if I cannot change a frustrating circumstance or limit.
The tween years can be trying times for everyone—and sometimes we parents need a pat on the back and to be reminded that what we do matters. So from one beleaguered superstar to another, here’s to you.
You are a superstar—even in your less stellar moments—because you’re there for your kids.
When they were small you could recite every word of their favorite books, knew just how to rock them to sleep and didn’t really mind the dampness on your shirt from your baby’s breath. You still pause to drop pebbles into puddles, can turn a meltdown around on a dime and, when you’re at your best, are a keeper of wonder for your kids. You help them with their homework, make sure they brush their teeth and show up to cheer till long after your throat hurts, the sun sets and your backside aches from the bleachers.
You’ve learned that one-size-fits-all approaches to parenting often miss the mark, and that sometimes all you can do is just grab your children, prickly scowls and all, and pull them close for a quick squeeze and an "I love you, I’m proud of you." Don’t be fooled by their squirms, though. It matters and they hear you, even if they don’t want to let on.
You’re willing to make the difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions, and in those tough moments when your most important job feels like a thankless one, you bear in mind that ‘this too shall pass.’
• Tweeners are not ready for teenagers’ responsibilities. Resist the temptation to leave them home alone or to allow them to cruise the mall unsupervised or date.
• Expect respect and teach your children how to manage their moods in healthy and appropriate ways and remember, your example is their best teacher.
• Keep the conversation going by asking open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a "yes" or a "no."
• Continue to offer opportunities for more "childish" experiences as your child is open to them: watch G-rated movies together, wrestle together and allow transitional objects like a favorite blankie or toy to have a place in his life.
• Keep your eyes peeled for those moments when your child does want to be close and allow him to express affection on his terms. When he does, ‘stop, drop (everything) and roll’ with it.
Jennifer DuBose is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia. She has been a clinical member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy since 1995 and is a featured blogger at ChicagoParent.com.
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