Have an angsty pre-teen? No problem! Get pointers on how to better connect with your temperamental tween.

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Yikes! Your baby is now a tween — she’s between 5 and 12, entering school and changing so fast. Although each child matures at a different age, some tweens will already show signs of puberty. This means hormones are taking over, which can result in physical changes and unpredictable behaviour.

Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, explains that mentally, tweens are starting to establish their own identity. “They want to exert their independence and are developing their own tastes in music, what they watch, who they are friends with, and what they want to buy.”

It is a confusing time for tweens: Their bodies are developing, their views of the world are becoming more realistic, there is peer pressure, along with the first flutterings of attraction to the opposite sex. So it is vital that you grow along with your child.

Dr Wang advises, “It is important to build a strong foundation when they are young because the teenage years could be worse! Reach out to them early, keep an open dialogue with your tween, so that you build trust and foster openness.”

Stay in touch Simple things like having meals together and spending time alone with each child can make a big difference. Don’t expect your child to invite closeness or volunteer vulnerable emotions when you insist. But it can happen if you set up enough regular opportunities to be together.

Be interested This is a time when tweens begin to develop their interests, so be supportive. Use this period to nurture him, so that he can achieve his full potential.

Encourage independence Dr Wang advises, “Give them some space. Let them choose what they want to wear, let them make some personal choices, but it is important to set some limits.”

Explain the value of money Because of peer pressure and advertising, they will start demanding games and branded goods. Explain how they can allocate money and show them how to save, suggests Dr Wang.

Teach your values The tween years are the perfect time to teach values. If you haven’t done the birds-and-bees talk, it’s time to tackle it! Don’t be afraid to talk about issues like drugs, sex and pornography.

Remember family dynamics “Avoid conflict with your spouse, as that is a sure recipe for a moody child,” Dr Wang warns. Treat family members with respect and you will get it in return.

Involve him in decisions He’ll appreciate that sense of family belonging, even as it builds his self-esteem. Tweens need to feel that they have a secure nest as they launch themselves into the exciting but scary world. Kids who feel disconnected from their parents lose their anchor and will look elsewhere for it.

Engage junior Dr Wang notes that parents will see an increase in defiance, so they should re-think their notions about discipline. A parent never wins a power struggle with his child because power-based punishment strategies stop working when junior starts challenging them. He says, “Parents should watch their emotions and give each other a bit of space. Instead of lecturing, use conversation. Engage them in discussion.”

Read on for answers to several pressing pre-teen questions…

Photo: INGimage

Tammy Fontana, lead therapist at All In The Family Counselling, sheds light on several sticky situations.

Q How should I react when my 9-year-old son tells me to “drop dead”?

A Act that out. As your 9-year-old keeps asking you for things, just ignore him and say, “Gosh, so this is what it’s like to be dead — I can’t hear anything and I don’t have to do anything.” I’d let that go on an entire day and wait for your child to apologise. Or after a couple of hours, say, “I know what would bring me back to life, a sincere apology.” Children learn through experiences — by teaching children that when they don’t treat other people nicely, parents included, those people won’t want to help them. A lesson like this mimics real life and teaches them more than a long and lengthy discussion about why one should be nice.

Q I read my 11-year-old daughter’s diary and she found out. Since then, she has been rude and uncommunicative. How can I gain her trust back?

A Reading your child’s diary is a major breach of trust by the parent. You need to examine the reasons you read her diary in the first place. If it was because of sheer curiosity, apologise to her. However, if you were concerned about your daughter and her actions, or perhaps felt you didn’t know what is going on, find better ways to connect with your child. The first thing you need to do is offer her a sincere apology, acknowledging that it was wrong and how bad you feel. You may want to use this as an opportunity to share that you would like to spend more time with your daughter, so you’ll know what is going on in her world. Then ask her if she has any ideas as to how you two might spend time together.

Q I don’t approve of my 12-year-old son’s friends. But I know that if I confront him, he’ll rebel. Any advice?

A Starting at around 12 years, children go through a very important developmental stage in which they try to separate from their parents and find their own identity. If you really don’t like your son’s friends, you need to make the effort to get to know these kids. Don’t tell your child he can’t be friends; instead, invite the kids over, learn their names and make contact with their parents. If these kids are really bad but you remove your child’s ability to contradict you, he is likely to drop these friends. However, if you demand that they can’t be friends, your child will probably do it to spite you, and not because he actually wants to be friends with those kids.

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