People often groan out the phrase “tween girls” the same scary way they utter “the terrible twos,” as if it’s an age and a stage parents should be prepared to dread. To me, the most important phrase in that first sentence is “be prepared.”
Tween girls and strong-willed two-year-olds both have an important job to do. Psychologists call it individuating, which I think of as a fancy word for reminding everyone that my mother and I are two different people. Unfortunately, the person who receives most of those reminders is the mother herself. Still, we can stay sane and happy through this necessary phase by being prepared with a few tactical strategies.
Wondering how to survive your tween’s desire to rebel, which may include the occasional--or not, so occasional--pre-teen temper tantrum?
Here you go:
1. Expect The Worst--and Stay Light About It
This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of advice. When my daughter was young, and telling me that we’d always be the best of friends, I’d soak it in. Then, I'd foreshadow the future.
“Sure, but you won’t feel that way once you hit middle school and you’re too cool for me…” I’d say.
The fact is, even though it’s developmentally appropriate for tweens (and teens) to push back and pull away, it can still be a little confusing for them. They don’t completely understand this new job of theirs. If they’ve experienced years of you talking about just how normal it is, it’ll feel less scary for them. And also for you!
2. Don’t Take it Personally
As your child becomes more independent, it’s important to remember she needs to establish boundaries, even though it’s likely she’ll go about it in a less-than-lovable fashion. Whenever my daughter would declare that I was mean or clueless or “the worst mom in the world,” I’d remind myself that what she was doing was developmentally appropriate.
Rather than shout back or try and convince her otherwise (like that’s ever going to work!), I’d say to myself, “This isn’t about me. She’s just doing her job.” This made it easier for me to respond to her with love and acceptance rather than an ugly face off.
And if you can’t help but get snagged into the fray, cut yourself some slack. I promise, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice. Tweens regularly break away and then come back for love and attention. Your main job is not to take her declarations to heart so you can welcome her back with loving arms.
3. Define Your Own Battleground
I think of this as Choosing Your Battles but with a twist. Through parenting tweens, I’ve learned that much of my own parenting misery came about because I’d set up arbitrary rules and then we’d battle over them. I’m not suggesting abandoning all rules (heavens no!!). But when I sat quietly and thought about whether it really mattered to me at what age my daughter’s ears were pierced or how I felt about her trying out being a vegetarian, I discovered that a lot of “my rules” were based more on what I thought I should care about rather than what I actually did care about.
If punishing or grounding your tween is going to make you both miserable (which is likely) it’s worth thinking about how your battlegrounds came to be in the first place. Are you worried about judgment from other parents? Or maybe your in-laws?
In my experience, it was a lot easier to have more calm, rational discussions with my tween daughter when the things I was holding the line on were my things, not things I simply absorbed from my social network or my own childhood conditioning.
At every age, your child will be learning something new and experimenting with boundaries, and your parenting will grow and adapt accordingly. Don’t let any phrases for phases scare you. Each stage is another opportunity to get to know your child and yourself better as you grow together.