Ah, the tween years.
A study in contradictions. One minute they seem so grown up you can’t believe it; the next they are back to being your little kids again. They want independence but desperately need your guidance. With a little planning and a lot of humor, I promise that you can not only make it through these years, but enjoy them!
Learning & Tweens
Kids at this age are moving from the concrete to the abstract in their learning. While they may begin to understand abstract concepts occasionally, many are not completely able to think abstractly until high school. And while your student will be increasingly able to complete work on his own, his need for the social aspects of learning is also increasing. Be sure to set aside some time to work one-on-one with your middle or junior high student and consider finding some social learning opportunities, such as co-op or field trips.
At this age, students begin to question ideas and no longer take everything at face value. They also understand that actions have consequences. This is a great time to begin conversations about politics and current events, church history and doctrine, and worldview. Start teaching reasoning, critical thinking, and debate skills.
Thanks to hormones and huge growth spurts, school may be the last thing on your child’s mind. Not only is your child’s cognitive development undergoing a major change during these years, but emotional development is as well. You may feel like you are riding a roller coaster as you navigate these years.
Encouraging Emotional Development during the Tween Years
Just as the nickname suggests, children in the middle school and junior high school years are “in between” childhood and the teenage years. These in-between years are full of developmental and cognitive milestones. But, like a pendulum, your tween may vacillate back and forth, one minute appearing to be mature and ready to take on the world, the next diving back into childhood, needing your reassurance.
So, how do you help your child navigate these emotional years as they move on to independence? Here are some tips to help your child — and you — make it through.
Listen to your child, not just with your ears, but with your eyes and body language as well. Children at this age are becoming experts at reading body language. Turn off the TV, put down the cell phone, and pay attention to your child. While each child is an individual, girls will typically be encouraged to talk when you give them lots of eye contact. For boys you may find that taking a drive or sitting side-by-side will result in more conversation.
Don’t tell your child how to feel or expect her to feel the same way you would. What seems small and insignificant to you may be very important to your child.
Encourage your child to explore and find his strengths. Don’t overload him with too many activities, but offer choices and allow your child the freedom to decide. At the same time, make sure to teach commitment by requiring your child to follow through with a class session or sport season.
Be a role model. We all make mistakes, but try your best to demonstrate the behavior you want in your child. And when you do make mistakes, be quick to ask forgiveness.
Gradually increase responsibilities and privileges, making sure your child understands that there are consequences for irresponsibility. Whenever possible, use natural consequences. If your child frequently forgets items for a lesson or trip, having to do without something will drive the point home much better than lecturing as you hand the item over!
If your child is a reader, good literature can spark conversations about emotional issues. There are books about all kinds of issues that your child may be going through, and being able to discuss something in the fiction realm can relieve the discomfort of discussing an issue that hits close to home.
Get to know your child’s friends, but don’t try to be their friend. Your child needs you to be the adult, not one of the gang. Make your home a safe place for your child and his friends to congregate.
A lot! Find funny jokes, watch comedies, find humorous YouTube videos, or tell stories about yourself as a child. Laughing together creates bonds that can last a lifetime.