inward thirteen

Once the twelve year change is finally done, many teens hit a more inward phase.  This can be around thirteen and half, or for some just over fourteen years of age.  Sometimes we see this in the way a teen withdraws into their own room, or into their own art or whatever their interest is.  Some draw close to a beloved parent or other adult whom they trust and enjoy spending time with, but some teens are almost hyper-critical of their  parents, especially their mother, and are mainly just a shadow disappearing into their rooms.  It may seem that on the surface that not much makes them happy, so they sort of come across as the Eeyore of the family.

While the media often portrays this type of developmental stage as a teen wearing black sitting in (or wanting!) a  black room in a dark mood, I think it is a little more positive than that.  By withdrawing, the teen begins to figure out who they are in relation to their family, their friends, their community.  He or she protects him or herself from other’s criticisms, almost like the coccoon of a caterpillar so that the teen can emerge as the butterfly later down the road.  In homeschooling, I think this idea of the coccoon can extend to actually wanting to attend school because there may be more “privacy” there – an independent life without parents looking over one’s shoulder, or siblings looking over one’s shoulder.

Does this look different for a child raised with a lot of family attachment?  I think it does.  The really attached children I have seen, no matter what their type of schooling, often seem to withdraw from peers  but crave being in the family more, particularly those coveted one on one dates with a parent.  They may spend time in their rooms, but also enjoy “dates” with their parents without siblings around, may roll their eyes at some traditions or the idea of family vacations, but still have a terrific time. In fact, I think this age can be one of the times where we feel as if our insistence upon the family unit may really pay off!  However, if  you have done this, and you don’t feel like this age is working out that way for you and your teen and you feel like you failed, don’t panic.  Every teen has a different personality, a different temperament, a different love language, a different level of extroversiona  and introversion.  As long as there is nothing involving self-harm, being bullied or bullying other people, etc and you feel you have done all you can, then you can hold  your steady with your ho-hum.

Here are a few of my top tips in dealing with thirteen/fourteen year olds going through a more inward phase:

  1.  Keep a steady rhythm, especially limits on technology if that is involved, and bedtimes.  Meals and eating patterns seem to get more erratic around this age, so I think not just relying on the teen to fix themselves something but to have family meals continue just the same.  Your protection is important right now for health and developing healthy habits – this child is not 17 or 18 or even 16; there is a difference!
  2.  Do not  push for constant involvement with siblings or cousins or even friends, but do have some expectation as to what their part in a healthy family life would look like – game nights? Dates out with a parent?  A sibling day between your 13/14 year old and a sibling?  Family vacations- with or without a friend?  Do they have to help take care of a younger sibling? I find for many homeschooling families with these patterns in place, things may not shift a whole lot, but for some families it does depending upon the personality of the teen – so again, make your expectations known and be ho-hum about the emotional response.
  3. Many thirteen/fourteen year olds feel deeply at this age, but their responses can often be one word; they may shy away from physical touch by a parent.  Only you really can observe the child in front of you and decide how to approach that, when to push or not push for that further emotional intimacy. Sometimes it is okay for things to lie fallow for awhile; it is okay to be ho hum about things; please do not criticize so harshly – thirteen and fourteen year olds really take it to heart.
  4. Do plan time alone with your thirteen/fourteen year olds, especially if you have younger siblings in the house.  Many teens desperately need time away from younger siblings.
  5. Teens of this age usually have interests, and if they do not have interests, I think that for the sake of balance, see what interests you can help your teen discover.  Encourage and spend time on those, within balance. Many younger teens try to do all the things, and find themselves cranky and exhausted.  Protection is important for this age, but so is interest in the real world, in different cultures, in different ideas – otherwise the teen remains the center of his or her own universe into adulthood.
  6. Teens this age usually grow in the idea of responsibility and that not everything is someone else’s fault. If you don’t see this coming along, that may be something to nurture.
  7. The most pivotal time for adolescence is the fifteen/sixteen year change, so if you are dealing with things that seem out of the norm problematic, I highly suggest counseling and getting outside help in order to set up a better foundation for that change.  Boundaries and consequences, close family times, may be something that is argued about, but also leads to the adolescent feeling most secure.
  8. Sometimes adolescents need help in calming their emotional life and learning how to be less impulsive and dramatic, and some need help in raising empathy, sharing emotions, forming relationships.  Only you can decide what your teen needs.
  9. Adolescence is not a stable time, and many missteps can happen between the ages of 14-18.  Some adolescents really develop critical problems in their thinking about themselves and the world, or develop habits that aren’t healthy. You really need to be around, present, and while maintinging a ho-hum attitude, be ready to provide protection, or balance for your teen when they can’t do it themselves, consequences and boundaries for when they try out the wrong things, and help sooner rather than later if things are problematic.  Rudolf Steiner, the foundation of Waldorf Education, often said the times of hearing the inner voice most strongly may occur around ages 19, 38, and 56, so we try to give our teens the best foundation we can in the times of 14-18.

There is much more to say about the healthy development of adolescents, but I would love to hear your experiences. What were you like as an adolescent?  Does that influence how you are parenting your teen?

Blessings,

Carrie

Toolbox of Tips For Communicating With 9-12 Year Olds

This is second in a three-part series of discipline, communication, and development for 9-12 year olds so we can all be more effective parents!  The first part to this series can be found here and got a warm reception from readers as it tackled discipline, responsibility, protection, sports, emotional intelligence, and more.

One thing I love about this age is that I think we have a chance to make a big impact on how we resolve conflict and communicate with one another.  The home is really the first and most major place in which children learn this!

So, the first thing to be aware of is what is your communication style?  I find many adults have a really hard time helping 9-12 year olds with conflict and communication within the family because they themselves were never taught communication skills or conflict resolution?   So, I think we need to think of things such as:

  • How do we deal with things and other people when things are not flowing smoothly? How do we react? What do we say?
  • Do we accommodate conflict by being a people pleaser and backing down on our boundary?  Do we avoid conflict and run away?  Do we become competitive and try to win over why we are right?
  • How good are we a collaborating during times of conflict?
  • Are we direct?  Can we say and use “I ” statements directly when we communicate – “I am frustrated!”  “I am angry!”  But……
  •  What do we do with those feelings then, though?  Take it out on everyone around us?  Yell, scream, shut people out, cry?
  • Do we put people down when we are frustrated or irritated at the situation?  What do we perceive as “disrespect”, why, and what do we do about it?
  • Do we use steps in resolving conflicts?  Only then can we really model.

For younger children, we often think of things such as using our bodies to walk over to the child, connecting with the child and getting the child’s attention, using a calm voice with a simple request, helping the child follow-through in the request.  If conflict ensues, it often is just a matter of hungry/tired/exhausted/needing connection, helping the child calm down, following through or making restitution.  Attacking, lecturing in a long tirade, blaming doesn’t do anything to teach a child how to communicate or solve conflict.

For older children, things become infinitively more complex however.  There is often less of a “working together” model in place developmentally, which is normal, but it can also impact communication and openness.  Here are some suggestions to lay a good baseline:

What are the ESSENTIAL family rules (boundaries)?  Not like pick your socks up off the floor, but the really essential things. What specifically triggers the adults in the family, and the 9-12 year olds and makes the house less peaceful?  What is so essential it can’t be avoided, but what is not essential and could be discarded?  Pick and choose the ESSENTIAL.

In our family, this does include respect and good manners for one another.  Manners are how we show we care about one another, and we should have respect for the fact that we are all different people with different temperaments, personalities, and interests living in the same house together.

If there are things like doing homework or completing chores causing conflict in the family how could you break it down into an action plan that garners cooperation?

Make the family a place of POSITIVENESS and SUPPORT.  One of my favorite phrases to use with my children is, “I am here to help you.  Tell me what you would like to see happen.”  That opening often sets up a much better conversation.

Make the family a place of TEAMWORK.  This is often set in ages birth-9, but it is never too late to start!

EMPOWER.  Children ages 9-12 are not going to do things the way you do them as an adult, but the more empowerment you can give them within the rules of the house and what needs to happen. What will happen if responsibilities are not done?  If poor words are chosen?  If the child becomes completely angry?  Figure these things out in a time of quiet and calm, and have it ready to go and draw upon.

START TEACHING. Responding to what other people say in a defensive way is not an effective way to communicate, and just like learning to walk or throw a baseball, learning how to communicate takes PRACTICE.  A few hints:

Everyone must be calm. This step often takes much, much longer than everyone would like.  Take the time to calm down. Come back later.  There are few things that have to be solved in a split second.

No defensiveness. No yelling. No name calling.  No accusations.  No physicality. If any of these things happen on the part of your 9 to 12 year old to you, stay calm.  Tell your child you would like to help them.  Most 9-12 year olds can still get really overwhelmed by emotions, and need space and time. Defensiveness, yelling, name calling, accusations only ramps up the whole thing and instead of problem solving it is just emotions spilling everywhere.

We can all disagree, but the reality is if we all live together, we have to come up with solutions that work for the family, and we have to agree upon boundaries and rules in order to  live together.  Nine to twelve year olds are often not really logical, so it is important to help guide the discussions.

Listen carefully, and talk about how things happened and what you would each like to see happen.  Come up with a plan.   Make restitution.

I would love to hear your experiences in communicating with your 9-12 year olds!  Let’s exchange ideas!

Blessings and love,
Carrie

 

 

 

Toolbox of Tips For Dealing With 9-12 Year Olds

(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.

Discipline:

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 INTELLIGENCEIn 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!

Blessings,
Carrie

 

The Authentic Heartbeat of Parenting

I was thinking this morning about running and metronomes; that rhythmic quality of running on the pavement or around the track is like a metronome set to a certain tempo; steady and going at the same pace, reassuring in its steadiness and how we can speed up or slow down to match the metronome. Unceaseless and rhythmical and the source of strength and rest.

This, to me, is so much like parenting.  We need find that authentic heartbeat, that authentic pace, and be able to hold it steady when the times of development and changing and growing in our children is not so steady.

When older children and teens are ready to spiral out of control, we are there with our authentic selves, and holding that authentic pace so if they are trying to speed so far ahead or so far behind, we can reach down and gently whisper, “Stay with me for a little while.”

When do we lose our pace?

When we become overwhelmed by our own baggage and our own triggers and our own emotions and our own lack of self-care.   I admit it has happened to me so much over the course of parenting!  I used to feel ashamed.  Why is this triggering me?  Why am I so frustrated with this particular piece?   But I don’t feel ashamed of it anymore; the longer I parent I can separate myself out of it all, the longer I just hold that it will all work out, the more I know my children have their own journey and their own work to complete that is not my work.

And then it came to me…

I am the metronome, but what am I set to?

Inner work and the work of grace.

I am married, so hopefully I am set in time with my spouse.

Can I keep the pace myself and not forge ahead with a clash of emotions?  Can I keep it less about me and more about just the gentle pace of growing up, the pace of our values as a family, and less about the tiny situation at hand?  The big picture is calling and the tiny details of today’s scrabble must not get in the way.

Parenting older children is tricky business. No one can really tell you how to do it as every family is unique and every child develops at a different time and pace, even if following along in a general way the developmental and archtypal patterns we have come to recognize that are common to children everywhere.

Development matters.  We are having an amazing discussion over on The Parenting Passageway Facebook page about parenting the 9-12 year old, and so much of it has to do with when the developmental changes (and on what scale) these changes hit.

The  reality is that all children eventually grow up, so changes will come, even if not at the standard times. And every family is different, so it may look different.  All we can do is be the steady pace, the gentle guide, the wonderful whisper of ease for those children who are finding no ease in the moment.

Stay strong,

Carrie

Friendships: Part Two: Ages 12-13

Back today with our friendship series for children ages 10-15.  Today we are talking about twelve and thirteen year  olds.

Twelve-year-olds often have an increased ability to separate from their parents at this age, to really say what they do or don’t want to participate in with the family, and this really extends into their friendships.  Twelve is much calmer than age eleven for the most part, although groups of twelve-year-olds can be difficult to manage for teachers and others.

Many twelve-year-olds are branching out to a larger group of friends, and most of the relationships are calm. Friendships that break apart may just sort of drift apart and away, rather than have some sort of traumatic fight.  Twelve year olds are interested in more than themselves, and may be actually intersted in how a friend feels or thinks.  Twelve year olds are better at taking responsibility for their own feelings and their own part in relationship situations that go awry.

What you can do to help:  Since twelve can be more of a harmonious time with friendships and things may just be going along with an established group of friends, I think there isn’t as much work to do in terms of individual friendships but there can be work to be done regarding what happens in groups.  Talk about bullying and exclusion, and how groups of people can put people down.  Talk about how each person in a group is an individual and how not to lump people all together. These are important conversations to have.

Thirteen year olds are often nicer away from home than at home, and can be quite serious and moody. Some thirteen-year-olds really withdraw and are not as interested in friends, which I think can be fine so long as they are not withdrawing into video games and social media.  Please think hard about giving your thirteen-year-old a phone!

Thirteen-year-olds are likely to get annoyed or irritable more than straight out angry. Some will walk out of a room instead of saying something mean; some will say the first mean and angry thing that comes to their mind. Under all of this, thirteen-year-olds are typically quite sensitive, both at home and in outside friendships.  Rather than seeing their friends as a “group,” now the thirteen-year-old often sees each friend as a separate human being that could or could not be part of a group and wonder if that person could be a close friend outside of the group.  Some girls will have a small group of two or three friends.  Thirteen-year-olds can be quite criticizing with one another.  Girls often share “deep secrets” while boys still hang around in a gang of four or five friends and don’t have the need to really confide anything too deep.

What you can do to help:  A thirteen-year-old girl may be mortified to talk about the move from friends to other intimate relationships romantic relationships) , but depending upon your child it can be  a good time to broach the subject of emotional intimacy in relationships; the idea of bullying can extend into the idea of bullying (abuse) in a romantic relationship, and how we should treat others and expect to be treated in a romanctic relationship.   This can be an important conversation for some children who you see having interest.

You can have conversations around how we treat those who are really our friends, how we repair relationships when  we feel criticized or made fun of, and the idea of different temperaments and personalities in the world and how different activities may be appealing to different friends.  I often talk to my children about how as adults we have friends who enjoy different things, and how I don’t always call the same friend to do the same thing. One friend may love the opera, one may not.  One friend may love to golf and want to go and one may not.  One may be the friend you can really tell all your deep things too, and others may not.  But, they can still all be our friends in some capacity,and it is up to us to choose do we only want the “deep dark secret” friend or do we also want a few friends based on the individuality of different people that is coming out in teens of this age.

Thirteen-year-olds do not need phones or social media. They will often use it, mainly the girls, to post pictures of themselves and perhaps their “deep dark secret friend” and often make other friends feel excluded.  Social media is not for children with immature frontal lobe development (which is all of them at this point! Trick statement). They just don’t tend to make good choices and think things through.  Talking to your children about social exclusion and social exclusion on social media is an important conversation.   Here is a good article about social exclusion  and this article about 9 Ways to Help Your Child Deal with Social Exclusion and Friendship Breakups is also a good one.

Talk to your thirteen-year-olds about how sometimes you feel really close to someone, but the friendship ends suddenly.  Talk about how to listen and how  to end frienships gracefully, and how to have more than one or two friends so if something does go awry and the friendship ends, your child will not feel as if they no longer have any friends at all.  Diversification can be important for some children at this age.   Friends often change over time, and even if your child has been friends with someone since they tiny, it may or may not work out to be a life-long friend.  And that’s okay.   Put energy into the new, not the old and teach your children that.

Blessings,
carrie

 

 

Nurturing Parenting: The 12-14 Year Old

One interesting thing that Waldorf Schools typically do in sixth grade (at least in the United States) is to have the students make dolls.  These are  not put together the way a professional dollmaker would put a doll together,  but more from an organic process that almost follows the development of the embryo itself and forshadows the physical development of the human being as it comes to life.  From loving nothingness to a small tightly wrapped ball (the head), expanding into the universe as a defined trunk  then with limbs taking shape (arms with a thumb and legs with feet)  and finally  a little being with twinkling eyes,  beautiful hair and clothes.

This fulllness of the human being is then echoed in seventh grade physiology, in eighth grade studies of reproduction, and in tenth grade in the studies of embryology.  This beautiful expanse of the human being is coming at a time of intense fragility of the 12-14 year old.

It is easy to think that once one is through the nine/ten-year-change, that the floodgates open wide. I have discussed some of these issues before in a series on portals.  And yet, there is still a twelve-year-old change to follow, and a fifteen/sixteen year change, which to me may be the most dramatic of them all.

Much like the toddler stage of life, young people of this age need protection at this time.  This is the time of the middle school grades in the United States, and often noted to be a very difficult time due to differences in physiological development, peer cliques, and I believe that the use of social media has compounded these issues. Being rather stuck between wanting to be more adult-like but also have the freedoms of childhood is difficult for the child, but also for the parent!

There is a certain fragility and uncertainty in these years that are like no other. Balancing the freedoms often provided to these group and the structure is a navigational process. I believe this age group needs protection from their limitless energy and wanting to do too much.  The limits of this age group in doing activities has essentially been eliminated. In the past, one might start playing sports in middle school (and you didn’t get much play until 8th grade) or doing more than one activity in high school. Now children in middle school have been playing sports for years and doing many activities.  They need help setting guidelines for sleeping, healthy eating, and more, and helping in meeting those guidelines even when they would rather stay up extraordinarily late or eat only sugary snack food.

So, in parenting this age group, please consider limits.  Children of 12-14 should not be treated like an older teenager with all the fun and none of the responsibilities.  While there is a campaign to“Wait Until 8th” for a smartphone , many twelve to fourteen year olds are navigating social media sites and media usage.  Media should not be limit-free for this age group!  Sending nude pictures, sexting, and using social media and texts in order to bully  a peer is sadly not uncommon in this age group because again, many of the children this age have no limits in terms of hours on their devices, and parents are not checking phones and computers.  One way to think about setting limits on media is to use a device like a Disney Circle; you can see a review from 2015 here; I believe now certain sites can be more easily blocked than what this review has stated.  Some parents have no idea what their child is doing on line or that they have multiple used profiles on Instagram or are on Snapchat or other sites. Devices such as these can trail usage across multiple devices.

Children of this age may need help being active in a free and easy way.  Many children this age like to “hang out” but the days of 12  and 13 year olds zooming bikes around a neighborhood or playing pick up games may not happen as much in the past.  How can this child be active without or in addition to an organized sport?  This typically requires free time that has no agenda. Having time to just be protects children and gives them space in this fragile state where they are emerging and trying to hear their own voice and may even give them time to connect with you, the parent.  You are still more important than peers at this age. In fact, I think the ages leading up to the fifteen/sixteen year changes may be one of the times you have the greatest influence.  So don’t give up! 

Lastly, help your child not to be a terrible human being with peers.  No, we can’t police everything, and yes, perhaps we were not policed in our peer relationships at this age in the past, and yes, friendships come and go in the middle school years as middle schoolers try to find their own voice and where they belong.  However, I think because so much of the free group play of the early years and early grades has been lost and replaced by adult-led, structured activities, children this age are coming into the more socially difficult middle school years with even less social abilities than in previous generations.  Help your child to learn what a loyal friendship looks like; is that friend really a friend or not; what bullying and toxic behavior looks like, talk to them about peer pressure in the areas of drugs and alcohol and sexuality.

Provide areas where children MUST show responsbility, whether that is nurturing the home, helping to care for a younger sibling, help with elders in the family, run a tiny business from the home.  Too many of the children this age have many toys and a run of what they want to do with no limits, but yet have no responsibility outside of themselves in terms of contributing to the family.

Most of all, just love them.  These years bring many changes in development in all areas being human.  Remember that this age is not 17 or 18 though, and as opposed to guiding an older teenagers with check-ins, they may need more parenting and limits than an older age group.  Being involved in this fragile, almost back to toddlerhood stage of needing protection is how it should be. It is a fine line between hovering and meddlesome and being helpful; boundaries are key to navigating this.  If you need help, I highly suggest you make friends with parents who have older children that you admire.  It can be helpful to hear what worked really well at this age, especially in those older teenagers that might have a similar personality to your younger child.

Blessings,

Carrie

 

Is Parenting The Eleven to Twelve Year Old Stressful?

There was an article in July that I wrote about in the post “Blossoming” .  The article basically stated that mothers were actually MOST depressed during the “tween” years when children were ages 11-12. I summarized the article in part, saying:

“… mothers of tweens (ages 11-12)  are the most depressed group of parents as their children go through physical and emotional changes, trying to separate by pushing boundaries, and how marital satisfaction is at its lowest for women (and how often these changes for children come in the midst of when we are changing the most in adult development as  well).  The linked article also mentions the exhaustion from driving and the children’s activities. “

There was another article recently going around Facebook on this topic, which brought it up again for me,  but I can’t find the link to the article anymore.  At any rate, it made me think about this topic again as I have both a 15 year old and a 12 year old, and it is easier to see the differences in these ages when you have both in your home!

I think this stage can be beautiful, although many mothers have written to me and spoken with me and have found that having a child ages 11-12 or so is very difficult. They find themselves with a child who is constantly pushing boundaries, who is distant, who wants to be with friends, who rolls their eyes at “baby-ish” things, who doesn’t seem respectful.  In my experience, most of the mothers who are having a hard time are having it with girls.  I rarely hear from mothers of boys of this age with these kinds of challenges ( but I hear from them when their boys are 13-14 years old!)

My thoughts are to consider that an 11-12 year old, whilst most certainly changing, is not at all the same developmentally as a teenager who is 15 or 16 or older. Every child develops at a different rate, but it seems to me that most developmental changes accelerates around the 15 and a half/16 year change onward, and there are baby steps at 12 and 14 in this developmental process.  This is written about rather extensively in the literature of Waldorf Education.

So, if this is the case, it may be that whilst the body is changing rapidly, the neurobiology of the brain is not changing that rapidly yet. Soley based in neuroscience, the brain changes the most between the ages of 13 and 17.  Neuronal sprouting and pruning of neurons does begin around age 11 in girls and age 12 in boys, but the majority of changes are still ahead.  The second to last paragraph in this interview even talks about the differences between 13 and 15 year old brains, and there is a dramatic difference.

So I feel some of the difficulties do not lie in biology, but in culture, and in how we often treat “tweens” like teens and how some tweens want to do things that used to be associated with the teenaged years.   Everything is more accelerated.  So, eleven to twelve year old girls now are often thinking about peers, boyfriends, makeup, navigating schedules of study and extra activities that would often put an adult to shame, and either  are fighting against boundaries or the opposite – living in a household where there are very few boundaries at all. (FYI, teachers write to complain to me more about the latter). This is at a time when I feel personally, that children should still be in the height of playing outside, riding bikes, being immersed in the life of the family.

Of course every child is different.  Sometimes what often happens here besides the acceleration of culture,  is how  the individual personality and interests of the child  meshes with the culture of the family.  Some children are just more intense than others or react to different stages of development different than other children.  It happens, and it is okay.  Honoring our children is important!

When I am struggling with one of my own children in this age range,  I ask myself these questions, and  I often ask these questions of parents who email me or call me as well:

  • What is your rhythm?  Children this age still need a strong  rhythm with rest and sleep and downtime.  Sleep is critical to the brain and development.
  • Does the child  have a schedule that is overloaded outside of the home? If things are not going well within the family, they may actually need more time within the family rather than less.
  • What are your boundaries?  Are they consistent? Listening is super important, as is guiding, but boundaries are also important,  especially around the issues of peers and media. Children of this age really do need to know the rules of the family, and this helps guide them.  Some children need help not accelerating into more teenaged type things, because they really don’t have the maturity to handle it at only 11 or 12 years old. Sometimes on this topic,  I ask myself, “What does my child need to hear from me?”  (and sometimes what they need to hear is different than what I really want to say! LOL)
  • The age of eleven to twelve should still be the heart of play, even though it is not appearing popular that 11 and 12 years should still  be playing with dolls or wooden figures or whatever. I would encourage parents to keep toys accessible if a child of this age says to “get rid” of whatever toys have been their favorite but are now considered somewhat “babyish”.  They may want these toys at a later date, so keeping them up but still reachable can help.  Encourage time to just be.
  • Physical activity is extremely important.  Park dates, kayaking dates, hiking dates, climbing dates, chances for skiing and skating and more are so important. Some 11 to 12 year olds really need a push.
  • What responsibility does your 11-12 year old have in the home?  This needs to be a priority.  The home priorities need to be fulfilled before the outside the home priorities.
  • What is going on with media?  I feel many 11-12 year olds have WAY too much technology access with too little boundaries.  Technology does affect the brain, and it can be addictive.  Some children seem more prone to this than others.  Why approach this with no boundaries?   I still personally feel 14 is a better age to introduce technology, and to introduce it within the context of work for classes rather than a diversion to play on.
  • Encourage and open areas of interest within maturity level and interest.  Many 11 to 12 year olds seem to be interested in things outside their home; although some are not.  If there is interest in multiple things as some children have, you may have to limit activities in order to not overschedule.  It is okay to have only one activity a semester, especially for a child this age.  They are not in high school yet!
  • Encourage time with the family.  Peer time can and should be limited for this age.  Children of this age may want to be with their peers a lot, but the true concern for friends outside of the family and some separation from the family is more appropriate around the ages of 16-18, which is a natural progression toward impending adulthood. An 11 or 12 year old is not yet 16, nor are they 18.  I think this is an area where boundaries, again, are appropriate.  Also, if your child is using technology to contact friends that may also need to be monitored carefully.
  • This is really important:  what do you do outside of your children?  Where is your community and support?  How many things do you do without your children, if this is important to you?  As your children get older,  it is important to develop interests and friends independent of your child.   This is imperative for many mothers in order to stave off depression.
  • I always ask myself, is this really about me?  Part of this encourages me to see things more neutrally, as in not everything a child does is  specifically or personally  against me, but encourages me to look and see – is it our personalities clashing over an issue?  Is it really just me ?  What can mitigate this conflict?
  • What can I do to increase that connectedness between us?  It may be they need one on one time with me, they may need me to put my foot down on a boundary and be secretely relieved when I do, they may need space to just be.  Every child and family is different!
  • Lastly, if you are married, work on your marriage.  Have a date night. Enjoy each other and re-discover why you were attracted to your spouse in the beginning.   No home is perfect, no marriage is perfect, but working on a relationship with your significant other if you have one, brings stability to a child going through changes who needs you to hold the line for a few more years until separation and a true adolescence begins.

Keeping  in mind that your 11 and 12 year old are actually more little than big can be a help in relieving parental stress during these years, with the knowing expectation that changes are coming at the 16 year old change.

I would love to hear your experiences.   Please comment below, and also feel free to email me at admin@theparentingpassageway.com.

Blessings and love,
Carrie