By Kim Norton
Welcome to the age of the “tween” where voices start to deepen, odours “mature”, bodies change, and emotions run high. You as the parent are no longer the centre of your little one’s attention. You have been replaced by a much more captive audience: themselves and their peers.
Somewhere around the age of 10, your little prince or princess will start wanting more independence (usually only when they want it) and the tug of war between autonomy and dependence begins. It is our job as parents not to drop that rope but to pull with equal voracity, to teach our tweens how to successfully navigate this big new world full of emotional, social and physical changes (some changes more embarrassing than others).
These changes will bring on a whole new level of stress for our tweens, stress that can be managed once recognised for what it is.
So, what can symptoms of stress in our tweens look like?
- School refusal.
- Irritability and anger.
- Fatigue / sleep issues.
- Loss of confidence.
- Low self-esteem.
- Changes in appetite.
- Frequent headaches and/or stomach aches.
- Forgetfulness and lack of concentration.
- Chest pain.
- Negative talk.
What can cause these symptoms or behaviours?
- Hormonal/body changes.
- Death in the family.
- Moving to a new house.
- Starting high school/starting a new school.
- Overwhelming schedules.
- Upcoming school test/exam, dance recital, sporting final.
- Genetics and family history.
- World events.
- Pressure to keep up with social media.
- Parental pressure.
- FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
As the parent what can you do?
- Normalise it.
Have discussions around what stress and anxiety is and how it affects all of us in general.
- Have “that” conversation.
Address any of their questions around sex and puberty. There are some great books and websites that can help with this if needed.
- Make it relatable.
Offer suggestions on how you have been able to manage your own stress in the past and present.
- Model desired behaviours.
“Monkey see, monkey do” type of approach. Show them how you manage your stress.
- Offer support.
Don’t brush off their concerns with comments like “You’ll be fine” or “Get over it”. Validate their feelings and let them know that you are listening.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
Try asking open ended questions rather than questions that require a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer. Eg: “Tell me something that made you happy today”?
- Learn practical coping skills and practise them with your tween.
Breathing exercises, mindfulness activities, meditation, journaling and exercise can all be invaluable in reducing stress and preventing anxiety or panic attacks.
- Play detective.
Look out for the symptoms listed in this article, pay attention to your tween and note any changes in their behaviour.
- Let them fail.
Yes, let them fail. Give them the tools necessary to bounce back, to take age-appropriate risks and then independently manage moderate stress.
- Help your tween develop a good bedtime routine.
Lack of sleep and/or poor quality of sleep will only exacerbate their stress (as any new parent will know).
- Lastly, if you need help then get it.
Parenting a tween can be confusing and overwhelming for all involved. A trusted friend or relative can be a great confidante for your tween (and you) or a professional counsellor or psychologist can provide you both with further individualised management strategies.
Empowering our tweens with the confidence and ability to manage their stress in this time of transition and change, will not only help them to develop resilience, but will also help to prevent anxiety, depression and other teenage behaviour disorders.
(Stay tuned for advice on how to help our Teens manage their stress and anxiety in the next issue – particularly helpful for our Teens completing end-of-year exams).
Kim is the founder of Rainbow Light Therapies and is a Holistic Counsellor specialising in stress and anxiety management for kids, teens and adults. Kim provides a unique, intuitive and individualised therapy approach through individual, small group and family counselling sessions at her studio in Langwarrin. Also working with special needs kids, Kim is an NDIS registered provider and runs workshops for people of all abilities on various topics throughout the year.
Please see www.rainbowlighttherapies.com.au for more information.