Making the transition from child to tween can be exciting and anxiety provoking. As children’s minds and bodies march toward puberty, the maturity process leaves many marks. There are the outward physical changes including the appearance of secondary sex characteristics such as pubic hair for both boys and girls. Tween girls may notice budding breasts, while boys may note the growth of their testicles. During these years growth spurts are common and the majority of girls will experience their first period before the age of 13.
Internally emotions are often in a stormy stage. The hormonal changes tweens experience can translate into mood shifts that at times seem to come out of nowhere. A new awareness of the world at large is the result of a growing brain. Suddenly tweens are invested in the world outside their family circles. From a parent’s perspective, they may seem too invested.
It is not uncommon for parents to note that their quiet, sweet, respectful child has developed an attitude over night. Put in simple terms, ‘tween mean’ talk is not so rare. Parents are often shocked and surprised when their loving child utters his first “I hate you!” Especially when the circumstances resulting in the response seem insignificant or even silly. Perhaps even more confusing for parents is that within moments after uttering the offensive emotion charged statement, a tween can seem calm, caring and kind, back to the baseline that his parents know best.
Tween mean is often an attitude reserved for the inner family circle. Parents may be relieved to receive feedback from authority figures outside home such as teachers, coaches, and even other parents, that their tween is indeed a sweet, sensitive, polite and respectful child.
Regardless of a tween’s reactions in other venues, an attitude at home can become unbearable. This is especially true when the flashes of irritability and rude are surrounded by moments of kindness and caring.
Tackling an attitude is not as difficult as it may seem. The first step in intervention and subsequently prevention is helping your tween to identify that the attitude exists. A sensitive approach is required. Remember, tweens tend to be very self-conscious. Their egocentrism encourages sensitivity. This is why an innocuous re-direction is often perceived as a criticism. Explaining concerns through concrete examples is often the best approach. Although a tween is capable of perspective taking, her natural inclination is to see things only from her own point of view. Parents should talk with their tween about attitude concerns when things are calm. If a tween has uttered the dreaded “I hate you,” use this utterance as an example to encourage empathy. “It really hurts when you tell me you hate me. Even if you are just angry, it makes me feel bad. Imagine if one of your friends said that to you.” Even if a tween indicates that he does not mean what he says, it is important for parents to emphasize that they take his words seriously, this will help validate that he has a voice, that what he says matters.
In order to re-shape an attitude, parents must point out the instances of irritability and unacceptable attitude to their tween. The key is to do this gently. She may find this exercise annoying which can encourage anger however, in time the behavior will hopefully become extinct.
The mix of emotions a tween experiences is very real. Parents should validate their tween’s feelings but encourage alternative outlets to replace a rude response or attitude. Parents should capitalize on a tween’s interests to create coping plans. If for example, a tween likes to write, a journal or diary is a good place to put down thoughts. Creative tweens should be encouraged to use their favorite medium to express themselves through art. Athletic tweens should use practice or exercise to handle feelings of irritability or annoyance.
The answer to extinguishing an attitude of tween mean is to set clear limits. While in the moment it may be easier to ignore or give in to what a tween is asking, in time this plan is sure to backfire. Parents should also avoid responding to a negative attitude with ire or shame. When parents offer calm redirection they model the attitude that they expect from their tween. Research supports the premise that children learn much through observation.
All children look to their parents to guide and support them. Limit setting on an attitude is an important part of this protocol. Although shifting emotions may be a natural part of the maturation process, a mean tween attitude toward parents is certainly not essential or acceptable.