“I do it myself!”
Do you remember the passion and independence that emanated from your toddler or preschooler when she uttered those words for the first time? Did your eyebrows raise at the tone, even as you smothered a chuckle over her clumsy efforts?
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the early learning years is the vast amount of learning that occurs. Our children absorb so much in such a short amount of time, and we can almost tangibly see the learning that their young brains are accomplishing!
As they grow older, they settle a bit. The elementary years produce increased challenges and definite growth, but it is easy for these years to feel a bit mundane. Unless we compare snapshots – whether photographs, academic reminders, or comments from friends – from year to year, we often don’t notice just how much they have changed and grown!
Parenting in the Tween Years
Then the tween years hit. Somewhere around ten or eleven, and sometimes extending as far into the teens as fourteen, our children return to a season of rapid growth. They mature physically in ways they have not since transitioning from baby to “big kid.” Emotionally, their horizons expand as they more deeply process the hearts of those around them. Academically, they merge into the more challenging learning that prepares them for high school. Growth is profound and sometimes even painful, figuratively and literally.
In the midst of all of this, the old “I do it myself!” mentality rears its head again. But, this time, the independence issues are a bit more of a stretch! Our tweens want to do more away from Mom and Dad. They want to test their wings and try the bigger world on for size. How do we help guide them through this time?
One Day at a Time
It happens on both sides. Parents and kids alike expect, even if only subconsciously, overnight independence and responsibility. Our children want to be treated like full-fledged teens, allowed all of the freedom inherent to growing up. We want to see full-fledged responsibility, assuring us that they are ready to handle life on their own.
Both realities are still a ways off.
As parents, we cannot help our children through this time until we remember that growth happens a little bit at a time.
Responsibility will not rise up in them overnight! It must be taught. Or, maybe planted and cultivated is a better description. We have a responsibility to slow down and give our children room to learn and grow with our guidance, helping them understand that growth takes time. Just as the first cry of, “I do it myself!” probably resulted in a plea for help after a few minutes of struggle, so will the struggle for tween independence result in many moments of frustration because our children just cannot do all they want to do.
Part of the frustration inherent in the tween years has as much to do with lack of knowledge and experience as anything else. Our children want to act grown up, but they do not yet have the skills and understanding to follow through. We want them to act with maturity, but we have not yet had the opportunity to equip them with the necessary tools.
The maturity and responsibility does not just suddenly appear when our children hit a certain age. It must be taught.
Teaching independence includes simple lessons like cooking or household management (a.k.a. chores!). It also encompasses the more difficult training of allowing our kids to walk into mistakes that we see but they don’t, mistakes that we know will not cause permanent harm but will teach important life lessons.
But our tweens are not alone in the learning! We as parents have to learn to trust, give second chances, and release our grip a little bit. Our tween can’t drive yet, and they have other limitations that naturally ensure some boundaries. This is a perfect time to let them stretch their wings, but we have to learn the balance between nudging them out of the nest to let them learn to fly and making sure that we still fly close enough to offer help.
Grace for All
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but at some point parenting during the tween years will feel like the ultimate clash between good and evil – with a bit of uncertainty as to who is on which side!
This is why grace is probably the most important aspect of parenting during the tween years. Each child will process through this stage differently, which means some of the hard-won lessons from your first-born will not be applicable when numbers two and three make it to the tween years. Your learning curve is as high as theirs.
Prayerfully give yourself grace as you walk through this journey! You will learn much more steadily and will be able to exhibit infinitely more patience if Spirit-given grace permeates your parenting.
Which means you also have to extend grace to your child. Remember our discussion earlier about growth taking time? Without grace, there is no patience or endurance to allow the growth process to run its course.
You are both going to make mistakes. Even some of the things you do right will be perceived as mistakes at best and grievous wrongs at worst. If you exemplify extending grace to both yourself and your child, you will equip him or her to do the same.
Most advice about the tween years tends to dwell on the tough part. And, helping them learn independence and responsibility is tough. But, it does not have to be bad. In fact, even with the challenges, it can be downright fun to watch and help your child learn independence. You get to see a glimpse of what God is working out in his or her heart and mind. You get to see light bulbs come on in a way you haven’t seen in years. And you and your child both get to explore new aspects of his personality.
So play together! Explore together! Enjoy this time in all of its roller coaster insanity. By relaxing and having fun together regularly, you will enter the teen years closer and stronger than you ever imagined.