Back-chatting, mood swings, rudeness. How to cope with your tricky tweens
Once they were your cuddly baby — loving, sweet and devoted to you.
But almost overnight, your adorable child has been replaced by a rude, surly back-chatter you don’t even recognise.
How can this be? They’re not even in their teens yet!
Welcome to the tween years — the time between the ages of eight and 12 — when many kids go through mood swings, sudden tempers, back-chatting and rebelling against the rules.
Dr Genevieve von Lob, clinical psychologist and author of Five Deep Breaths: The Power of Mindful Parenting, says: ‘It’s an age where they are no longer little children, and on the cusp of the teen years. It can be an overwhelming and confusing time where they have an increased drive for independence, despite not being old enough to do many tasks on their own.
‘It’s a normal part of their development to begin pushing the boundaries more.’
Dr von Lob says that this stage can almost be seen as a second toddlerhood and adds: ‘Tweens start to move away from their parents and focus more on their peers. They begin to feel a pressure to fit in. They are learning to organise their thoughts to develop more sophisticated opinions.
‘However, despite all these changes, they’re still young children, so there will still be times when they need to run around, play and be silly.’
So what is going on in your tween’s brain?
Dr von Lob says: ‘We know that starting in the tween years, the brain goes through a massive reorganisation as it undergoes extensive remodelling, which continues into adolescence and into the early 20s. Essentially, the brain is being pruned of little-used connections it no longer needs, and improving the efficiency of those connections that are most used. This “neural pruning” continues throughout the teen years.
‘As the brain develops from the back to the front, this upgrading process does not reach the prefrontal cortex — the part responsible for rational decision-making and self-control — until the 20s. Evolving young brains are simply incapable of exercising the same degree of judgment and self-control as adults, which explains why tweens can be so disorganised, irrational, forgetful, impulsive and difficult to handle.’
So, now that you know why your tween’s acting this way, what can you do to cope?
Dr von Lob says it’s about striking a balance between giving them independence and setting boundaries.
She says: ‘Of course you want to protect your tween, but on the other hand no tween will benefit from being micro-managed.
‘Take it one step at a time. See how they respond to increased responsibility. Ask yourself if your tween is ready to handle a little bit more freedom, or have you given them more than they can currently cope with?
‘They will only be able to prove they are competent if you set your expectations on the high side — and they have to be allowed to make a few mistakes along the way.’
Dr von Lob adds: ‘You need to remain their primary emotional support — don’t outsource this role to their peers. Other tweens simply don’t have the wisdom, maturity or life experience to guide your child. The bond you forge during the tween years will form the foundation of your relationship as they grow into adulthood, so it’s worth persevering as far as you can.
‘Listening is truly one of the ways we can make a difference as a parent. We need to find time to put down our phones and listen to our tweens with full presence and attention.’
Edited by Julie Cook
6 tips to try
Be consistent. If your tween is rude to you, let them know the consequences. Ensure you always follow through and make them accountable.
Let them experience the natural consequences of their actions, as this is the best way they’ll learn. For example, if your child doesn’t do their homework, they’ll get in trouble at school.
Be empathetic. See it from your tween’s point of view. Remember, their brain is changing.
Stay connected. If you try to control your tween’s behaviour without working on your relationship, you’ll have problems. When a tween feels connected to you, they sense how much they are loved and respected.
Involve your tween in boundary setting where possible.
Have realistic expectations of yourself. Accept that we all lose our temper sometimes, especially if we are stressed out or sleep-deprived. No parent is perfect!