It’s inevitable. There will come a day when your once happy, easy-going child hits the point of no return, and overnight they seem to have mastered the art of sarcasm, eye rolling, and door slamming.
Welcome to the tween years!
You aren’t alone if you find yourself wondering if aliens abducted your sweet little kid or you are spending hours every day wracking your brain trying to figure out where you went wrong. Especially when the most communication you seem to get from your tween is a grunt or an impressive eye roll.
Rest assured, this is all a perfectly normal (even necessary!) phase that children go through in order to start building the foundation for establishing their identity in the world. However, normal or not – it’s still a rough time for the parents and other members of the household when the full force of adolescence hits home.
So, what is causing this sudden change in your blossoming tweenager? And how can you approach them in a way that doesn’t cause them to instantly shut down? The first thing you have to do is get a basic understanding of what exactly is happening in your middle-schoolers brain!
The Brain of a Tween
It was once the norm for all tween angst to be instantly blamed on one loaded word – hormones. And yes, there is a whole lot of that affecting your child from around 10 years old and on. However, experts are now saying that there is a much bigger picture that needs to be looked at to understand the sudden shift in behavior when a child approaches adolescence.
Biologically, your tween’s brain is undergoing a major shift that is imperative for developing appropriate skills in order to be prepared for adulthood. The brain develops from back to front, and the prefrontal cortex that manages impulse control and rational decision making is the last to develop. In fact, this critical area of the brain isn’t fully mature until around 24 years old!
Because of this development process, tweens tend to process their emotions and decision making in the amygdala, a posterior structure of the brain that contributes to anger and primal emotional reactions. That explains why no matter what tone of voice you use, your child tends to process it as “yelling”!
The biggest aspect of their personality being developed during these years is a focus on creating a sense of identity. They are entering an age where their observations of the world around them are progressing faster than their emotional maturity to have perspective on it. The dramatic emotional outbursts and impulsive decisions are a tween’s way of testing boundaries in order to find their place in this newly discovered world.
Even though biologically your child’s sudden shift in behavior makes sense, how do you peacefully diffuse arguments and sort through their conflict?
The answer really boils down to one thing – a whole lot of patience. Some tricks to keep in mind when attempting to reconnect and communicate with your tween include:
- Getting Enough Sleep
Everyone struggles with their emotions when they are exhausted, and your tween feels it even more than an adult. Most children between the ages of 11 and 13 function best when getting around nine or 10 hours of sleep each night. Remove the temptation of electronics from their room, and enforce a set bedtime to help them get the rest they need to get through their day.
- Avoid Lecturing
It’s tough to not give into the urge to lecture your tween when you feel at the end of your rope with their dismissive attitude or impulsive decisions. However, no child will really hear you if they perceive your attempt at talking as a lecture. Focus instead on asking open-ended questions to encourage your child to talk.
- Learn to Listen
One of the most common complaints of a child in this age group is “No one ever listens to me!” While this may be entirely untrue from a rational perspective, it is important to acknowledge the underlying feelings behind this type of accusation. More often than not, this is a cry for attention from your overwhelmed tween, and the perfect opportunity to provide your support through simply listening to their perspective without lecturing them with advice.
- Look for Unexpected Opportunities
It’s very common for children to shut down and refuse to talk when they feel confronted about their feelings. This is where some creativity comes in! Seize the opportunity to talk with your tween in “non-threatening” moments, such as riding in the car or while doing an activity together that they enjoy. Approaching important conversations in a subtle way can often diffuse an argument before it has the chance to begin!
Keeping it all in Perspective
There’s no doubt that there will be rough days (or even months!) when trying to raise your tween into a compassionate adult. It’s important to keep a healthy perspective on the process, even when in the thick of it. Remember that a bad day does not make a bad parent! Hold yourself accountable as much as you would your child. Apologize after an argument gets out of hand, recognize the areas that you could improve on, and above all else – never be afraid to pull your tween in for a hug and loving word! When it comes down to it, within every angry adolescent is a young child simply trying to find their way in the world, and the loving support of a parent can make all the difference.