Parenting is a journey filled with moments of bittersweet irony. For example, one minute you are wishing your children could be more independent and do things for themselves, the next you are wishing they would stop growing up so fast.
One stage where this is very apparent is the preteens (or tweens). Not a little kid, but not yet a teenager, kids between the ages of 9 to 12 are starting to start to crave more independence. It can be a challenging time for both parents and children as you navigate the changing dynamic of your relationship.
While preteens still need clear boundaries, guidance and a level of supervision, they also need time to develop the skills and confidence to take them into their teenage years.
Finding the right balance here can be tricky, so here are some ways you can start fostering independence in your preteen:
Take a step back
Just one at a time, mind you! This means not being so involved in every aspect of their life. Definitely be there to listen and be supportive, but resist jumping in to save the day straight away every time.
With friendship issues, hold back on offering solutions or calling little Johnny’s mum to intervene. Let them talk out the problem and think about ways to deal with the situation.
With schoolwork, let them manage their own workloads and assignments, while letting them know you are there if they need help.
Give them responsibility
Contributing to the running of the household is something even the youngest family member should be doing, however as they grow, give your preteen more responsibility. This might be graduating to mowing the lawn or washing the car – something they weren’t able to do without adult assistance before. Regular chores not only help out, they also teach responsibility and important life skills.
Whether they earn pocket money for their chores or they have birthday money etc., let them start to decide what to spend it on (or allocated amounts). Learning the value of money and how to handle it responsibly is a big step in gaining independence.
Teach them to talk
Open communication is the key to any trusting relationship. Your preteen needs to understand that in order for you to trust them and grant them increasing independence, they need to communicate with you about important things such as where they are, who they are with, any issues you need to be aware of, and so on. Be clear what your expectations are around communication to ensure their safety, but also so you can stay in tune with what’s going on for them.
Teach them to problem solve
Granting your child more independence can be daunting as we don’t always know how they will cope in a tricky situation without us. Preparing them for any eventuation, without scaring them, is the best way to go. Some important things to teach your child include:
- What to do in an emergency – who to contact, where to go etc
- To trust their instincts – if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t
- To knowing their limits – we all have them!
- When to ask for help – kid’s shouldn’t feel bad or incapable if they need help in an unfamiliar situation
A great way to practice these skills is to run possible scenarios past your child to get them thinking about what they might do. For example, “I was in the shops today and saw a child looking lost, what would you do in that situation?”
Take Their Lead
Most of all, be guided by your child as they are all individuals. Don’t push them to do things they may not yet be comfortable doing as this can backfire and cause anxiety. If your child is not as eager for independence, try smaller steps to help build their confidence.