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10 Tools for Dealing With Tween Stress

No longer little kids and not yet teens, children between the ages of 9 and 12 are feeling their own particular stress. This period is fraught with its own worries, as tweens grapple with balancing more schoolwork and increasing social pressures. During these tween years, kids become increasingly self-conscious and more likely to compare themselves to peers. This is because they're trying to figure out both who they are and how they measure up to their fellow tweens.

Consider as well that tweens are beginning to experience hormonal and other bodily changes. This is no small thing. During these years, they often go through an "awkward stage" physically as their body parts develop at different rates. As if these stressors aren't enough, let's factor in yet another one. During the ages of 9 and 12, tweens begin to think about the world, including themselves, their social relationships and their identity, on a more abstract and complicated level.

So, yes, I believe we can all agree that the stressors tweens are dealing with can be overwhelming, as they struggle with success and failure and social acceptance and rejection. The good news is that there are many things parents can do to help their kids deal with this stressful period in a more effective manner, and I can to clue you in on how to make these years easier.

Make sure your tweens are getting enough rest and eating properly. These are always the first things I ask about when parents tell me their child has become increasingly irritable for no apparent reason. None of us at any age can deal with pressure effectively if we're exhausted and hungry. Consider an 11-year-old girl who has started playing a new sport. This is a case where the child might need more rest and some healthy snacks in her backpack.

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Ensure there's a balance. The importance of ensuring balance in a tween's life cannot be stressed enough. As the schoolwork demands increase, your child needs time to not only study but also to play and exercise. Sit down with your child and come up with a well-balanced schedule that includes all three of these important aspects of life.

Make sure your child is selecting sports and activities that she is interested in rather than ones that suit you alone. I have seen too many instances of parents forcing activities on their child because they thought it was good for them without getting the child's input. This is clearly a recipe for unhappiness, frustration and resentment.

Praise effort. Keep your expectations of your tween's school performance appropriate. A tween, for example, may be a B+ student with a parent who wants all A's. Ask yourself what is more important—the quality of your relationship with your child or perfect grades. Keep in mind that you'll need to adjust your expectations to his abilities. Your child will recognize if he is disappointing you. Praise effort more than achievement.

Resist perfectionism. Don't try to raise a perfectionist. This is the best age for kids to learn that it's OK to make mistakes and that there's no reason to fall apart from a disappointment. Children who grow up in families where mistakes are acceptable and not a source of shame tend to develop into resilient adults.

Consider the 9-year-old who has studied with you for a spelling test and hides the test because she misspelled two words. Ask yourself if you've gotten angry or shown other negative emotion in similar situations.

Respect differences. Be sensitive to your child's temperament, and realize that we're all born with different dispositions. Some kids are naturally outgoing, while others are more sensitive and take longer to warm up to people. Honor these differences in your tween, and don't compare siblings, peers or other kids to your tween. Comparing leads to resentment and feelings of inadequacy.

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Listen to your tween. Tweens often tell me that their parents talk at them but don't listen, so always listen to what your tween has to say. And while you're listening, remain calm. No child wants to talk to a parent who is losing her cool. You'll be surprised at the things tweens will tell you if they believe you are listening in a calm and interested manner.

I remember a 12-year-old girl I worked with who told me her mom never listened to her. The mother was aghast when the daughter told her this. What the mom didn't realize is that she was frequently on the computer when talking to her daughter. The daughter perceived the mom as being uninterested. The mom and daughter are now communicating beautifully.

Build in free time. Make sure your tweens have free time in their schedules. Yes, they might complain about being bored, but this is an excellent opportunity for them to learn how to spend alone time. We all need time to think, to rest and to face our own thoughts. Don't be afraid of the word boredom.

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Don't do their homework. Regarding homework, do not do it for them. This is a very sensitive topic. It is their homework—not yours. If you start taking over this task for them, then you are unwittingly sending the message that you doubt their abilities.

If you believe their homework is too difficult for them, you may want to speak to their teachers and figure out why they are having difficulty. I have seen much conflict between parents and tweens regarding homework. You can help them on an as-needed basis, but constant involvement sends the wrong message.

Limit social media. You don't want your tween to become socially isolated by spending hours in front of a screen. Besides, many social cues are misinterpreted and missed without face-to-face interaction. Decide as a family what a reasonable amount of social media time is. I have seen things work out very well in this arena when tweens earn time online. Consider it a privilege, not a right.

Love who they are. Make sure your tweens know that you love them for who they are—not simply for their achievements. Let them know that treating a sibling kindly is just as important as doing their homework well and that you appreciate compassion as much as grades. Tweens need to know above all else that we value their essence.

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