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Making Room For Peers

As children become preteens or “tweens,” they begin to experience many changes—physically, mentally and socially. Physically, they’ll go through puberty. Mentally and socially, they begin to practice adult-like behaviors, exerting more self-control than they ever have before.

During this stage, preteens may also feel more irritable, moody and frustrated, which can lead to conflicts with parents and adults. Conflict can also arise because they want more independence to make their own choices.

Parents approach this stage with fear and trepidation because of  “horror” stories about how awful kids are during their preteen years. Here’s the thing: The children who were so wonderful and cute haven’t all of a sudden turned into crazy, hormone-fueled monsters with no empathy or memory of your love and caring. In fact, their brains are preparing to go through intense developmental changes that will prime them to deal with the real world.

Parents at this stage can do lots of things to maintain a healthy relationship with their preteen. First and foremost, this isn’t about you so don’t take it personally. You don’t have to tolerate disrespect, but do understand that they are not rejecting you. Your preteen is simply making room for their peers.

Another way is to prioritize them, but in a way that doesn’t crowd them. Create opportunities to spend enjoyable time together like running, painting or yoga—things you can do together to maintain a connection with your child.

What you can do

Spend time with your preteen doing things they choose and enjoy, but don’t crowd them and don’t take it personally if they prefer to be alone. 

Talk with your tween about friends, accomplishments and challenges.

Get involved at their school. Attend school events, meet their teachers, or volunteer with projects or functions.

Involve your child in household tasks like cleaning and cooking. Give them freedom to do it when or how they want to. 

Meet their friends and the families of their friends.

Encourage them to set goals, and think about skills and abilities they would like to have and how to develop them.

Include them in establishing rules, discipline and expectation, and have them stick with them.

Praise them and remind them of their accomplishments. Saying, “You must be proud of yourself,” rather than, “I’m proud of you,” can encourage them to make good choices when nobody is around.

Educate them about the normal physical and emotional changes of puberty.

Respect their opinions. It’s important that they know you are listening.


Conversation starters

Let’s plan on doing (pick the activity) together on Sunday. What time works better for you? Here are the times that work for me.

I’m noticing you’ve been spending a lot of time by yourself lately. Do you want to talk to me about it, or would you prefer to talk to another adult that could be helpful to you?

I’m here if and when you need to vent. Sometimes it helps me to just download all my thoughts while somebody else just listens without giving advice or commenting. I can be that person for you if you need it.

(An adult mentor) was asking about you the other day. How would you feel about them taking you out to lunch or coffee?

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