Stuck in the middle with you: How parents and children can get through the 'tween' years

Stuck in the middle with you: How parents and children can get through the ‘tween’ years

Pre-teens begin to see the good and bad in people — the ones they’re friends with can be fun, but also mean and nasty. Picture: iStock Not long ago, she got invited to Paw Patrol-themed birthday parties. Now, your 11-year-old is receiving invitations to pamper parties with beauty treatments. Only a few years ago she watched Shaun the Sheep — now she’s making TikTok videos.

The tween stage can catch parents off guard. And it can be equally disorientating for children — that nine to 12-year-old cohort who are on a bridge between young childhood and the teens. It’s a steep trajectory and child psychotherapist Colman Noctor says children can be at different stages of it. “Some will enter it much quicker. They’ll be racing towards the teens, while others will cling to childhood — hold onto the Lego, the stuff they enjoy that’s no longer deemed cool by the others.”

Noctor says as children approach the teens, they can struggle to come to terms with the unpredictability of people. “In primary school, friendship is very territorial — ‘you’re my best friend, I’m yours’ — it’s very contractual. Pre-teens begin to see the good and bad in people — the ones they’re friends with can be fun, but also mean and nasty. They see another side of people and their social world becomes more complex.”

They’re also beginning to anticipate — with some anxiety — the organisational autonomy that will be expected of them. Noctor sees this starting at about age 11 or 12 when secondary schools come to pitch their schools to sixth class pupils. “The impending change plays on their mind. They’re hearing about timetables, lockers, different classrooms, and they’re thinking ‘crikey, how am I going to cope with this?’”

Brain flux

Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and author of 15-Minute Parenting 8-12 Years, says the pre-teen stage is one of significant growth and development across cognitive, social, emotional and physical faculties. “Their brains are in a constant state of flux. This process of intense change can feel confusing for parents,” she says.

Tweens are gradually capable of greater degrees of logic, their pre-frontal cortex is still very immature, she says. “So we see evidence of emerging maturity, self-regulation and capacity for greater responsibility. But it’s mixed with flashes of temper and emotional meltdowns that seemingly come from nowhere. And it is all part of this stage of middle childhood.”

At this age, children start pulling away from parents and family as their hub of social development, and towards peers. “They become very focused on what they think their peers are thinking about them,” says Fortune.

Noctor says parents can struggle with seeing children become less communicative with them. “Tweens need to retreat. They start spending more […]

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