(This is Part One of a three-part series) There is absolutely so much written about how to discipline, communicate, and recognize the stages of human development in smaller children, especially those under the age of 7. And then…
Things just sort of drop off. Community and friend support diminishes. Family support may be there, but it can also be difficult if you are raising your children differently than your parents did. It can feel invasive to talk about what is going on with a twelve-year-old to friends. Parents end up feeling alone.
The good news is that information is out actually out there, and this series of posts is the round-up of helpful hints and ideas! Take what works for you and your family and leave the rest behind.
Rhythm is STILL your friend. Hold on to it! This is the step that makes life and your nine to twelve-year-olds less crazy and easier to deal with! Don’t move too fast into the realms of letting 9-12 olds deciding everything that is going on for them. Nine-to-twelve year olds still need bedtimes, help in not taking on too much at school, and yes, even helps in taking breaks to eat and drink. I personally recommend that if you are not working later at night and are home that your nine year old still goes to bed between 7:30 and 8:00 and that your 12 year old is in bed by 8:30. In order to do this, your children need to (and will be up) in the morning and will need to expend a good amount of physical energy outside each day. The energy of many boys in particular, seem to go up around age eight or eight and a half and continue through about age fourteen, so they need hours of physical work and exercise.
That being said, RESPONSIBILITY is important, even as you carry the bigger pieces of the daily and weekly rhythm. Nine to twelve year olds are very capable. They should be doing chores and helping around the house, yard, or farm. The way I work with chores is to make a list of daily chores for morning and evening, and assign teams. I only do morning and night because that tends to be when I have time to be available and check and rally the troops of this age. I also try to catch children of this age doing fantastic things to help or be kind without being prompted. Having a culture of taking responsibility and contribution is so important, and these ages are a great time to build that! I consider this step the first real step towards self-discipline.
WONDER is still important. This is NOT the time for a computer or cell phone yet. It just crushes wonder and limits in-person communication – and in these days, most cell phones that parents give children also open up the Internet. You can see more about smartphones here . Boys and gaming is also an issue, and I would encourage you to wait. You can see practical advice about gaming here..
I recommend clocking (in your head at least) the number of hours you are spending outside in nature – hiking, biking, walking as a family, camping. If you have difficulty with this and you are in the United States, there are several organizations you could look into that would help your children get outside, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Fire Side, Earth Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Fresh Air Fund. This is a step toward learning self-regulation.
PROTECTION – Yes, the world is opening up but some level of protection is still important. The best way to start is, of course, modeling and exposure to different people and culture in real life in whatever way that looks for your family and talking about things that you come across.
Talking about bodily changes needs to happen for most children who will have bodily changes between ages 10-14 (and some as early as 8 or 9). Most parents do not do an adequate job preparing their girls for menarche or talking to their boys about bodily changes. The first part of sexual education is seeing the body in a healthy light, and yes, in seeing healthy relationships that include facets besides just sexual activity.
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE – In a society where our number two killer of our teenagers is suicide, we have got to do a better job as parents talking to our children about growth mindset, resilience, emotional attitudes, positive attitudes, what to do with feelings, how to cope with stress, and providing techniques for breathing, yoga, body scanning.
It is our job to model dealing with stress effectively and to model humor and to keep the lines of communication open. This age benefits greatly from some one-on-one time with a parent if you have a lovable tribe of kids.
Also, don’t underestimate the sibling pack as the first way of promoting how we act in relationships, respect, love, loyalty, and yes, how we make restitution when we cross the line as siblings are wont to do!
SPORTS– I think in the United States if parents hold off till nine to start organized sports, especially in this day and age due to the lack of neighborhood play and less space in general to run for many children, you are doing well. Holding off until middle school would be even better. If you must start something, please see the back posts on sports (here is one to start). I recommend i9 sports for a variety of reasons, but mostly because this organization seems to understand the importance of rotating sports, of practicing and playing a game in one session for recreational sports, and the fact is that whilst some children are crazy about one sport and play for years on end, the majority of children involved in sports QUIT by the teenaged years if they are pushed too hard. Also, from my standpoint as a pediatric physical therapist, many coaches are simply not educated enough about the developing pre-teen body, the importance of things like pitch counts, etc whilst they are in the midst of pushing intensive year round practices, weight training , and more.
Up in Part Two; Communication! This is what parents are really talking about when they talk about “talking back” or “tween attitude”. I think it is actually less about discipline and more about teaching our children how to communicate not only with us, but with their friends. More on that to come!