Ages & Stages: Your Preteen

No matter how important we want to be to our child, the peer group becomes the major influence during the preteen years. Gaining social acceptance becomes the major objective for the fourth through sixth grader. By using made-up languages, secret codes, and special rituals, children strengthen the bonds of friendship. Although all children select close friends of the same gender, they become increasingly more interested in the opposite sex.

Physically, you will notice an increase in your child’s body strength and improvements in his coordination, hand dexterity, and reaction time. This increase in physical abilities coincides with an expanded interest in competitive sports.

Children begin to question authority more often. They identify, and criticize their parents’ weaknesses. Although they may believe that they need minimal supervision, they are frequently scared and lonely when left alone. Despite verbal protests, your child will be secretly pleased that you take charge and decide to hire a baby-sitter when you go out even for just a few hours.

Dealing with your child’s mood swings, defiance, and criticisms is not an easy task. If you impose your will (either verbally or physically), your child will only become angry and frustrated. She may seek power in other places and become aggressive towards other children. Yelling and spanking results in the same negative behavior. Your child’s behavior will only change for the short term and he will use yelling and hitting to solve his problems with other children. Offering suggestions to help your child solve her problems or change her behavior is only temporarily effective. The problem is that YOU will be doing the thinking for your child! In the face of your suggestions, your child has no opportunity to come up with ideas of his own and he may become passive. Children are more likely to act on their own solutions if they are given the skills and freedom to do so.

When you realize that offering suggestions isn’t working, you may resort to offering explanations. Again, you are taking the active role and your child is remaining passive. She is not invited into the conversation, but is asked to simply listen. Oftentimes, you are doing the talking and no one’s listening! Explaining falls short because your child will eventually tune you out. He will feel as if he’s heard every explanation a thousand times and doesn’t need to hear it again. Although this approach is more sophisticated than suggestion, over time it is just as ineffective.

Involving your child in the managing of her own behavior and problem solving is the most successful strategy to use with this age group. Children don’t tune out when they are part of the conversation. When presented with an issue, ask questions that will encourage your child to think about alternative behaviors he could use. Listen to your child’s ideas and guide her to the wisest choice. Help your child see the consequences of his behavior and recognize the possible alternative solutions to his problems. You will help your child develop crucial negotiation and problem solving-skills.

Each age and stage is accompanied by its own pains and pleasures. Not only does the child grow, but so does the parent. With each new age comes new knowledge, frustrations, challenges, and rewards for child and adult.