The tween years are complicated — at that crucial range between 10 and 12 years old, your tween is still a child but quickly heading toward the teenage years. At this stage, children are deep in the trenches of the awkward middle school years, and at this time, they grow at different rates, begin to go through puberty, start to become curious about dating, and are toeing the line between being communicative children and disconnected teens.
Having a tween is like negotiating your way through a minefield, so in order to help you keep communication open with your child, we've come up with nine things that you should never say to your tween.
- "What were you thinking?" The thing is, even if we have a lot of faith in the examples we've set for our kids, they're going to make their own mistakes as a result of their surroundings, friends, and impulses. You can't protect your child from every mistake they make — they're at an age where what they need from you is guidance and acceptance, not constant accusations.
- "How was school/your day?" Asking this question — though your intentions are in the right place — is likely going to end up resulting in an automatic "good" or "fine" response. In order to really encourage open communication and trust, try something open-ended like, "Tell me about your day," or "Tell me the best thing you learned in school today." These inquiries require a thought-out answer and will inspire expanded communication.
- "If you spent half as much time studying as you did _____, you'd get better grades." We all want our children to do well in school, but within the tween stage, it is also important to empower your kids and help them to realize their worth. School isn't the only thing that children are meant to try to be good at and enjoy, so the more you support your child's hobbies and interests, the easier it will be to help them also make more of an effort with school in the same way.
- "It's not a big deal, just get over it." Assuming you don't know anything more about time machines than the rest of us, you went through this delicate time yourself. Whether the things that meant most during that time — like getting invited to a sleepover — matter to you now is irrelevant. Those things mattered to you back then, and they matter to your tween now. Don't make them feel like their personal struggles aren't valid.
- "No one will want to be friends with you if you do that." At this phase of their lives, having friends and being well liked is one of the most important things to get right. When you use your child's behaviors against them, don't expect your shaming to result in good or changed behavior — it will probably result in tears, anger, or anxiety on their part.
- "You shouldn't eat that if you want to get asked to the dance." Anything along the lines of how they eat or how they dress in relation to popularity or dating is going to directly impact their self-esteem during these years (when body image issues really start to manifest themselves). We want our children to be proud of their bodies, but media influences and friends will likely cause your tween to judge themselves — these are touchy subjects that should be approached with tenderness.
- "Is he/she your boyfriend/girlfriend?" Sure, you may say it with silly curiosity — and maybe a playful nudge of the elbow — when your child mentions a classmate, but at this age, assuming that just because your child is talking about someone means that they want to date them can be a bit awkward. A tween figuring out what they want is difficult enough without you getting curious every time they mention a friend's name. If you want them to talk to you about this stuff, don't put pressure on them — they'll likely come to you in the end.
- "I'm not talking about this right now." This is like parent code for "I don't want to deal with rejecting your request right now." Rather than saying a variation of this and dismissing your tween when they're trying to talk to you, give them a reason as to why you can't discuss something with them at present. Letting them know that you will address whatever it is they want to talk about later will let them know that what they want to talk about matters to you.
- "Because I said so." Think back to your mother saying this to you — it was the most frustrating response no matter what was being discussed. Saying this can make your tween feel like they have absolutely no authority to make a decision for themselves. Providing your child with reasoning for why you "say so" doesn't diminish the authority you have as the parent; it just gives your child a bit of insight into what you're thinking and how you made your decision.