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Home Featured Navigating Through the Tween Years: Listen, Laugh and Trust Your Gut

Navigating Through the Tween Years: Listen, Laugh and Trust Your Gut

Navigating Through the Tween Years: Listen, Laugh and Trust Your Gut

By Jody Kashden, Ph.D.

Change can be hard, no matter your age.

But for kids in their tween years, it can be especially difficult as everything seems to be changing all at once — and fast.

While many may be able to manage this period successfully with the help of parents and caretakers, some kids may need extra support.

Designed especially for children between the ages of 9 and 12, the Tween Program at Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health uses an evidence-based treatment approach to teach tweens to manage their emotions effectively.

A Time of Intense Physical, Social and Emotional Change 

The term tween typically refers to the time frame when young people are beginning to enter puberty — generally speaking, from ages 9 to 12.

Though timing may vary from person to person, one thing remains consistent: this stage in life is hallmarked by intense physical, social and emotional change.

  • Physically, tweens are experiencing one of the biggest transformations in their lives. Their bodies are changing in many ways, both internally and externally. Often, it can seem like the changes are happening right before their very eyes.
  • Socially, tweens are facing increasing pressure to fit in, which is intensified by technology and social media. Their interests are changing, and they may start feeling differently about how they want to spend their time. In addition, they may start exercising more independence and testing — or even bending — the rules.
  • And emotionally, kids start to become more self-conscious during their tween years. Significant hormonal changes occur, and romantic interests often develop. Kids start experiencing more emotional ups and downs. Their behavior may seem erratic. One minute they may be fine with something, and the next minute they may have a different response.

In other words, the tween years are an intense time for kids as they try to understand themselves, who they are and who they want to be.

Looking back, not many people usually say they want to go back to being a pre-teen.

Tips for Parents

The tween stage can undoubtedly be confusing for kids as well as their parents and caregivers. However, there are certain tips parents and caregivers can consider to help make the transition easier.

  • Make sure your tween knows you’re there for them. Be a good listener and really try to hear what your child has to say. Reflect back to them what they’re telling you, so they know that you heard them, without making any judgements. Provide them a safe space to talk about their experiences whether stressful, confusing, challenging, or exciting. Try not to jump too quickly to solve problems for them.
  • Find ways to spend quality time together. Identify activities your child likes to do and join them a few times a week. Do they like music? Listen to their favorite playlist with them. Do they play video games? Pick up a controller and join in. Do they like making art? Set aside time to paint or draw together. Enjoy participating in activities that your kids are good at. If they can teach you something, that may boost their confidence.
  • Find opportunities to laugh together. Laughing breaks down barriers and helps people bond. Be silly and share a laugh. Family pets can be great sources of humor as can experiences such as dancing in the kitchen while you’re cooking or watching a funny video on the internet.
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes. When kids see their parents make a mistake and recover from it, it helps them learn that making mistakes is just part of life. This is especially important as kids are learning and trying new things that may not always work out well. Rather than hiding mistakes from your kids, recognize them and talk about them as part of learning and growing.
  • Model self-care. Healthy habits such as getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising are good for both you and your child. When you take time to do something relaxing for yourself, whether taking a bath, reading a book, or practicing yoga, it sets a good example for your child.

Trust Your Gut

There are times in everyone’s life when things can feel overwhelming. If you think your tween is struggling, trust your gut.

It is critical to seek help and support when you need it, especially if your tween is dealing with issues such as school avoidance, bullying, cutting, substance use, or eating disorders.

Pediatricians, school counselors, and outpatient therapists are all good resources. For more significant problems, more intensive treatments like the Tween Program at Princeton House are available.

The Princeton House Tween Program helps provide the building blocks to help tweens recognize emotions and foster self-care. The program focuses on identity, self-esteem, relationships, and coping skills and provides tweens the tools to understand, validate, and communicate what they are experiencing.

With parental permission, team members often collaborate directly with schools to develop transition plans, make recommendations on special accommodations, and even help navigate crises. Cope-ahead plans can be shared with schools to facilitate re-entry, and ongoing communication is prioritized.

Both intensive outpatient and partial hospital programs are available at Princeton House’s Hamilton, North Brunswick, and Moorestown sites.

The changes that kids face during their tweens can feel intense for both them and their parents and caregivers. By fostering open communication, modeling positive behaviors, remembering to laugh, and seeking help when necessary, you can help your child manage the physical, social, and emotional changes associated with being a tween-ager.

For more information about Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health, call (888) 437-1610 or visit www.princetonhouse.org/child.

Jody Kashden, Ph.D., is the Senior Director of Clinical Development and Performance Improvement at Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health and a licensed psychologist.