How to help your child through the mean tween years….

There’s something about kids in their pre-teen years.  Hormones are careening through their bodies, life is changing at scary rates and all of the kids around them are going through the same things.  This can often lead to kids being uncommonly cruel towards each other — and anyone else in the vicinity.

Why are tweens often so mean?

It’s a pretty unsettling time for children.  Often, almost every aspect of their lives is changing at once — from where they go to school to what their body shapes are to what their friends want to do for fun.  Hormones are raging, middle school is looming (or already making life all new in often overwhelming ways), embarrassing physical changes are occurring and they’re torn between the exciting lure of teenage-hood and the safety and fun of their childhood loves.

There’s also an ever-increasing need at this developmental stage for children to feel that they fit in.  Often, they try to make themselves look and feel better by trying to make others look and feel worse.

How can you protect your child?

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to fully shield your child from this kind of behavior during these years.  Friends, neighbors, fellow school kids and other tween peers are likely to at least occasionally target any child they can.  Parents and teachers are often oblivious, especially since some of the “best” children can practice some of the meanest behavior away from adult eyesight.

There are plenty of ways to help your child through these times, though, such as:

  • Talk about times when you were treated badly at that age, and anything that helped.
  • Encourage reading.  Many young adult novels deal with characters who face bullying and other tough tween issues.  It can be immensely helpful for kids to live through these things through fictional characters.
  • Help your child take part in clubs or organizations that provide him or her with a positive support system.
  • Monitor online interactions.  Kids are often meanest in social networking arenas.
  • Facilitate time with good friends who are loyal and supportive of your child.  For instance, have your home open for sleepovers and arrange for transportation to friends’ houses if your child lives far from friends.
  • Be there for your child and encourage time for just the two of you to talk (no pressure).
  • Nurture your child’s interests, skills and hobbies.  Not only will this help your child’s self esteem, but it provides more positive things to focus on.
  • Look for role models who talk about going through difficult times at this age.  Many actors, writers and other public figures talk about going through very awkward stages and dealing with cruel classmates.
  • Regularly do things to make life a little more fun right now.  You may not be able to protect your child from mean kids and a tough time, but never underestimate how much happy times at home can balance that out.
  • Try to be especially gentle and understanding at this age, even though tweens can make this difficult at times!  This is a time when having secure, attached relationships with parents is especially critical for kids.

What if your tween is acting mean?

Unfortunately, this is a time when good kids can behave badly too.  Tweens can be especially cruel to siblings, but can also act terrible towards parents and target other kids.

Here are some ways to head off this sort of behavior:

  • Again, talk about how that sort of thing affected you as a child (either as a victim or instigator).
  • Discourage social situations that tend to result in your child adopting the “pack mentality.”  For instance, if you notice that a certain group of friends really encourages making fun of other children, set up more social opportunities for your child with more positive friends.
  • Respectfully point out when your child says or does something hurtful.  Be gentle (remember, as mean as kids can be at this age, they are still extremely sensitive themselves!) but let them know if you think they’ve done something that is likely to hurt someone.
  • Have a zero tolerance policy for nastiness.  It’s fine to be moody and grumpy, but it’s not fine to hurt someone else to feel better.  Let kids know that if they’re hurtful to the people around them, they’re going to need to go somewhere else or make it right for that person.
  • Encourage empathy.  Talk about how others might be feeling when someone says something mean to them.  Watch movies and TV shows that show bullying from the receiver’s standpoint.  Again, books can help, too.
  • Give them a wide berth.  If your kids are obviously in especially foul moods, sometimes it’s good to keep siblings away temporarily and leave them to sort themselves out.  Explain to younger brothers and sisters that it’s not personal, and do something special with them for the time being.
  • Lastly, same as above:  Try to be especially understanding at this age, even though tweens can make this difficult at times!  This is a time when having secure, attached relationships with parents is especially critical for kids.