“You don’t need to ask that question again. You already asked me twice,” my daughter said rudely.
Silence from me fills the car.
“Are you mad at me?” she asked, a bit exasperated.
“Not mad, but irritated,” I reply.
“I’m sooooorrrry!” she says in a tone that sounds anything but sympathetic or sorry.
I bite my lip momentarily and tightly ball my right hand into a fist.
Earlier, I had “embarrassed her” by saying “hey” when I greeted her after practice, where other girls could hear. I overlooked that, took her to the library to borrow a book she wanted, and let her enjoy a treat from the farmer’s market.
Ungrateful brat, I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud. I took a deep breath.
“What?!” she said.
“Let’s both be quiet for the next several minutes and listen to music,” I said, opting for a truce. I wanted to avoid blowing up and escalating the mood further.
We are in the thick of tweenhood – her in the tween stage and me being the parent of a tween. I try to remember that this, too, shall pass.
She is in a rapidly changing time. This in-between stage is one of the most difficult I’ve parented through.
My 11-year-old has grown physically, probably two to three inches this school year. My daughter is nearly my height. Her voice doesn’t sound little anymore. A few weeks ago, we realized all the pairs of shoes in her closet were too tight. She went up several shoe sizes, and we had to obtain school, running, and black dress shoes. She wears her hair down all the time now—no more pigtails and braids as she wore for the past five years. She wants to shave her legs. She has an occasional headache. Then there’s the body development, too—increased hair growth, breast growth, and the body preparing for a future menstrual cycle.
Emotional changes in a tween can be tough on everyone. It often feels like an evolving state of moodiness – your tween is overjoyed momentarily and then angry or weeping with sadness. A tween’s brain releases hormones throughout its body, and they are learning how to deal with these changes and growth.
A great depiction of personified tween emotions is the Disney film Inside Out where you meet the characters of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust who live inside 11-year-old Riley. I often refer to these characters when discussing feelings with my kids and other adults.
I’ve learned that it helps if we both acknowledge the feeling and we name it and claim it when we can recognize emotions.
“Right now, it seems you’re angry. Let’s talk later when you’re feeling calmer.”
Or “Would you like me to sit next to you while you cry, or would you rather be alone and feel sad for a while?”
“Can I do something to help you feel less anxious or fearful?”
All these emotions live inside us, and they surface at different times. The triggers for emotions in tweens can often be quicker reactions and less of a transition from one state to another. Mood swings are expected if they don’t last too long or affect children’s abilities to do daily routines – schoolwork, activities, and household needs. If it lingers or you find yourself concerned, talk to your child’s doctor or seek other professional help and resources. You’re not alone; they need to know they’re not alone, either.
How are we coping? How are we getting through this in-between era?
Here are a few things that are helping us:
Time and Space
I try to give my tween space when she needs it. When upset, she often needs to go to a safe area, like her room, and be alone for an hour or so to process her emotions and settle down.
Distract With Activity
I often suggest an activity change. We will bake cookies, play a board game, paint fingernails, or do something where she can distract her emotions with a fun activity.
Use a Helpful Resource
I gave my daughter The Feelings Book and suggested she read it after she has an outburst or needs a reminder for how this is normal and offers coping solutions. It is a thoughtful, well-written, and fundamental tool for girls and parents.
Talk to Someone
Hopefully, your child can talk to you when they’re ready, but maybe putting them in touch with another trusted friend or family member is also a good idea. I have two daughters (4.5 years apart) who are now old enough and close enough to talk to each other. They may also call friends or a grandparent when they want to vent or lean on someone to share concerns with.
Learn Your Child’s Love Language
Here are ways we apply the love languages to help her through a tough time:
- Physical Touch – This is my daughter’s highest result. I give extra hugs and snuggles to her. We may lie down and watch a movie where I can be beside her, making her feel safe and calm.
- Words of Affirmation – I give her a pep talk, and I say all the things she is doing well, which makes her unique. I’ll write little notes and leave them around the house for her or put them in her lunch box.
- Acts of Service – We do something we enjoy and something nice for others, such as making a meal or baking a treat that we can share.
- Quality Time – We go for a walk. As we walk, we may plan a fun activity that we can do or that my daughter can look forward to with friends.
- Gift Giving – We develop a gift idea for a friend or loved one and surprise a neighbor or someone we know with an unexpected small gesture.
This in-between stage can be a bumpy ride, but you can prepare your child (and yourself) with tools to survive and eventually thrive.