What's a tween, you may ask? Tweens are kids between the ages of around 10 and 12 – too old to be children, too young to be teenagers.
The kids who are all of a sudden too old for bedtime stories and cuddling up on your lap; kids who now prefer the company of their friends to their "boring" and "old" parents. And, let's be honest, all this can feel a bit like rejection, which is one of the reasons the tween to teen transition is tricky.
It's a key developmental stage as our young people make their way from being dependent little kids to slightly bigger kids with increased autonomy. Our kids go through big changes as they navigate and pursue increased independence, but one thing remains the same - they still need us! As parents, we're our kids' safe place to land – no matter what.
Connection is key
The tween stage is a time for the important groundwork that will pay off later. Ideally, we want our teens to navigate well on their own – making wise choices and handling life with resilience. That's why our support and guidance at the tween stage is so formative.
At Parenting Place we talk about the V of Love – the V shape illustrates the widening of boundaries as our kids develop more capacity for trust and freedom as they grow older. And the ideal place for this progression to happen is within a connected relationship.
The tricky thing about the tween stage is that sweet little kids get a bit, well tweeny, and the connection starts to feel different. Hopefully, you'll be encouraged to read that this is all normal. Sometimes the door gets slammed in our face, metaphorically or otherwise. We need to find another door and not take rejection personally. This is actually your child's newfound independence speaking – you're not rejected, you're empowering your child's development.
It's helpful to look for new ways to connect with our tweens. At the same time, however, we suggest parents take the pressure off – look for natural opportunities for connection, instead of demanding your tween joins you in the moments you've designed. Driving to practice, shopping, cooking dinner – these seemingly mundane activities can be powerful moments of connection.
And have fun – play games, instigate a spontaneous dance party, watch funny movies. Laughter is very unifying.
Check the tech
Technology is a significant tool in a tween's quest for autonomy. However, it needs guidance, so parental involvement is key. Our tweens are great at telling us how many apps their friends are allowed and how much freedom other kids apparently have online, but don't be afraid to maintain control over the technology use and availability in your family.
While we guide our tweens, we're also building trust. We're giving them a lens to see for themselves what is okay and what's not. We really don't want our young people to go underground with their tech use, hence the need to stay involved and keep the conversation open and light.
Phrases like "This is our expectation" or "These are our guidelines" are firm, but not confrontational. And make use of our old favourite "In our family we ..." This simple statement does profound work forming safe boundaries around our kids, which in turn makes them feel more confident. And as tweens get older, those boundaries can get a bit wider, in keeping with their growing maturity and confidence. And enjoy the ride.
I still remember the night I put our youngest to bed when she was nearly 5, and as I bent over to kiss her sweet soft cheek, I caught sight of her new school stationery – carefully packed in a box and tucked safely under her bed. I then had to rush from the room fighting back tears.
Having no more preschoolers was a significant moment for me, and it was a tricky transition to navigate. But then she started school and we formed new routines and it was a lot of fun! I've found each stage of parenting brings its own challenges, joys and rewards. I tend to think that growing up is exciting – for our kids, and for us as parents.
• Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place.