Understanding eight to 12-year-olds.jpg

Understanding eight to 12-year-olds


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Andrea Clifford-Poston is an educational psychotherapist and author of Tweens: What to Expect From and How to Survive Your Child’s Pre-Teenage Years (published by Oneworld) and When Harry Hit Sally: Understand Your Child’s Behaviour (published by Simon and Shuster).

Full of good causes, fun … and arguments!

I’M NO longer eating vegetables”, 10-year-old Polly announced after a talk on the harmful effects of spraying crops with insecticides at school.

She was now adamant that “vegetables are well dangerous to eat”.

Her parents were in a real quandary as to how much they should go along with her and how much they should insist that she ate some vegetables.

We can imagine 11-year-old Tom’s parents’ worry when he came home, outraged, from the beach with his friend.

They had seen a drunk trying to teach his dog to swim in the sea.

As the dog struggled to get to the shore, he would chase it back with a sturdy stick.

When the two boys challenged the man, saying they would report his cruelty to the GNR, he had turned on them aggressively.

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is that just as you feel you are beginning to get it right, the scene changes and you feel you are back at square one!

For the first time in their lives, your tween (pre-teen) is going to attach as much importance to what they are taught outside the home as inside.

They are going to assess your views with those of their friends, teachers, club leaders, etc. before they make their own decision.

They are beginning to work out their own morality and what they believe in.

Their brains are buzzing with all sorts of thoughts and ideas about issues, such as human suffering, animal welfare, drug abuse and so on.

Having formed an opinion, like Polly, they will then try to convert everyone to their viewpoint.

The reality is that we cannot force children to do anything.

So this may not be a time for arguing or agreeing but more a time for trying to have a conversation with your tween.

Importance of arguments

“She just argues for the sake of it … she’s really not listening to what we’re saying about crop spraying…”

Polly’s parents were at their wits end.

However much they tried to explain the pros and cons of organic vegetables to Polly, she was adamant that all vegetables were a potential health hazard.

Tom’s parents were having a similar difficulty.

However much they tried to point out to Tom the risks of challenging a drunk armed with a stick on a relatively deserted beach, he would retort: “So you think it’s cool to be cruel to animals?”

“He just doesn’t listen, he just wants to argue … the problem is he knows everything”, said his mother.

Tweens are beginning to understand the shades and nuances of life.

When your tween challenges your beliefs, it is not so much a thirst for knowledge as a means of practising a new realisation; the realisation that adults, especially parents, are not always right.

Tweens may have a strong sense of what they believe to be right and wrong and, at the same time, they may be ambiguous about their beliefs.

They begin to sound out their beliefs to themselves by delighting in their newly discovered skill of arguing with adults.

Like Tom, they will be quick to detect the slightest possible flaw in your reasoning and endless, seemingly inane arguments, can ensue.


They may know it all but they are also anxious!

Getting impatient with your tween is not the point.

When tweens have strong views, they mean something important to the youngster.

An important difference between an adolescent and a tween is that tweens are not polarised. Tweens are thinking about things and trying to make up their minds; adolescents will have established a viewpoint by which they are both trying to define themselves and to convert other people!

What tweens need are parents who are willing to listen to their viewpoint and explore with them how they have reached that viewpoint.

If your sole project is to try and change your child’s mind then you are more likely to polarise them into a position that they may not actually believe in.

Now is the time for both you and your tween to practice negotiating skills. And cheer up!

What better place is there for a youngster to learn to argue than in the home?

Hopefully, home is where we can make the most ridiculous arguments and yet still feel accepted and admired without too much loss of face.

Tweens can make adults feel uncomfortable in all sorts of ways.

They can be like rather exuberant puppies who rush in to grasp an idea and then bound about excitedly with it, upsetting both things and people in their path. Sometimes they are teaching us something with their exuberance and we may need to listen!

Foster moral development.

Try to explore issues with your tween rather than argue with them.

For example, however ridiculous their stance may be, you may get further by saying something like, “That’s interesting, where did you get that idea?”

It is equally important that sometimes you stand firm on your viewpoint.

The skill as parents lies in deciding which issues you feel are important and which you feel you can let go.

Children learn most by osmosis, by observing and absorbing the behaviour and attitudes of the adults around them.

As your tween moves into adolescence, you may just have to trust that you have set your child a good enough example.

Next: Managing your tween’s emerging sexuality