Your kids who used to be so sunny, happy and positive have started to act out. They are beginning to challenge you, talk back, maybe they even lie once in awhile. They aren’t interested in Disney Junior anymore. Pink or red or blue is no longer their favourite colour, instead black and white are in. They are listening to music by artists whom you’ve never heard of and they know all about whatsapp and a million other ways to keep in touch with their best friends.

You ask yourself “Isn’t all this supposed to happen only when they are teenagers? Why is my 10 or 12 year old changing and why aren’t I ready for this to happen?”

Your kids are growing up and you have to find a new way to relate to them; and more importantly, to continue to be able to teach them the lessons they need for what lies ahead in life. To do this, you may need to take a look at your discipline philosophies and adjust them to stay in step with the changes your kids are going through as they transition into the tween years.

What’s Driving These Changes?

The tween years are called that for a reason. They are that strange in-between age when kids begin to feel the need to find themselves as individuals, but they have no idea where and how to start the process. 

At the heart of it is the need for your tweens to begin to test the boundaries which they’ve always lived within. “What happens if I don’t listen to mummy? Is dad always right? Why can’t I stay up until 11pm like other people? Why can’t I dress the way I want and hang out with my friends on weekdays too?” 

Your tweens are also trying to find a voice of their own. They are trying out new fashions, new music, new social groups, interests and hobbies to see what they like and how much of what they are is really theirs, or has been influenced by you. 

All this sometimes leads to rebellious behaviour and what seems to be a rejection of all the things which you and they used to enjoy together. On top of all that, you need to remember that tweens are still kids and haven’t yet learned the more subtle social skills which might allow a more mature adult to express his or her feelings and rationale for wanting to try something different. 

What Should Parents Focus On?

So what can parents do to help tweens get through these years and prepare them for the next big change which is just around the corner – the teenage years? Most parents will realise by now that once their kids reach this stage, time-outs, top down directives and strong negative punishments no longer work. Instead more consequence focused discipline techniques and a willingness to allow your tweens some leeway for independence becomes necessary. 

1. Stay Calm
Remember that in most cases, tweens are not necessarily acting against you. They are just testing their boundaries and are probably just as confused as you are. They may not even know why they feel so sensitive and moody either. So take things in your stride. React to their new behaviours calmly. In some ways, knowing that their parents are still calm, controlled and able to deal with the situation is an enormous source of comfort and stability for tweens who may be confused and deep down, scared, about what’s happening too. 

2. Set Clear Boundaries
Tweens are still kids and you need to remember that despite all the tough talk and attitude, that they still need you to be their parents and they need you to help them figure out the boundaries between what defines acceptable social behaviour and when what they are doing might endanger them or the people around them.

So be very clear about what’s important. Things like honesty, openness, responsibility, right and wrong, homework and commitment. Be willing however to let go of some of the things such as how often they tidy their rooms up, their fashion sense and anything else which you feel will not have a big impact on their values and ethics. 

3. Be Consistent and Always Follow Through
Whatever guidelines and boundaries you choose, communicate them clearly and be sure to always follow through on them. So if screaming at mummy isn’t acceptable, then put in place clear measures to deal with it and always carry them out. Any lack of consistency will make your boundaries less solid and will usually result in greater challenges to your authority in more areas of their lives.

Having said that, you should probably consider using natural consequence based discipline techniques. In other words, allow your kids to experience the natural consequences of some of their decisions. If they decide not to practice before the soccer tryouts and don’t make the team, then that would be a natural consequence. Doing so will allow them to not only experience some degree of independence, but it will also allow them to understand the consequences of their decisions. 

4. Reward Good Behaviour
All children respond to praise and positive rewards for good behaviour. Continue to do this with your tweens. Tell them when you are proud of them and be specific in your praise. Let them know  exactly what they have done or what decisions they have made and how it affected you and other people positively. 

5. Model Respect 
Just as you want your kids to respect you, they want you to respect them too. This push towards independence will be linked more and more strongly with the desire to be seen as separate individuals who are worthy of your attention and respect. 

In your own interactions with your kids model the following behaviours:

  • Make time to listen to them when they have something to say

  • Avoid harsh criticisms, blame and sarcasm 

  • Listen to their feelings and explain your own feelings to them

  • Stay calm, don’t raise your voice, scream and shout

  • Explain your rules to them in a clear and logical manner so that they understand when and why you feel these are necessary

6. Make Time for Them
Don’t forget the importance of bonding as a family. When your relationship with your children is close and affectionate, it becomes easier for you to explain why you feel some rules are important. It also becomes easier for your children to continue to trust you and to stay within the boundaries you have set. It will also reduce the sense of confusion that they may feel as they grow through these years of transition.