Tweens often get lost in the mix of older and younger siblings, but these two years are developmentally vital.
The other day when I was making dinner, my 10-year-old Charlotte asked if she could help. I told her she could help when I got to certain step, which was less complicated. She shrugged, said okay, then wandered off to play with her brothers. I forgot to call her when it was time to help., and she forgot to return.
Later that evening I happened to click on my Facebook memories and saw one from 3 years ago, of a night when my then-10-year-old Sienna (who’s now 13) had made dinner and dessert by herself, from scratch. The realization hit me like a lightning bolt — sandwiched between an older, teenaged sister and many younger brothers, my tween was being eclipsed.
Ten- and 11-year-olds are at an amazing stage of development. They’re largely self-sufficient — able to shower, brush their teeth, dress themselves, and make their own lunches. They usually haven’t yet entered the emotional roller coaster of puberty, but they’re extremely aware of their growing independence. In fact, they take pride in it. preteens are by far the most eager to help with any chores that need to be done. They love taking on new projects, especially if those projects involve learning new skills.
The tween years are the perfect time to teach kids how to do all the major household tasks, from laundry to mowing the lawn. They’re quick and eager learners, and once they’ve mastered a skill they love getting the chance to show it off … partly to earn parental approval, but mostly for the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
But all that independence and this relatively stable emotional lives of tweens also mean it’s easy for parents to overlook them … especially in a house full of kids with different, sometimes more taxing needs. Letting your tween be eclipsed by their siblings, or even just by the general busyness of life, does them a great disservice. They’re not only capable and eager to explore and learn — they’re driven to do so. Developmentally, their brains are prompting them to seek out new experiences and new skills to masters, so we parents have a responsibility to guide those desires in the right direction. Luckily, teaching a tween a new skill requires far less time and patience than teaching a toddler, or even a teenager. Here are a few simple ways to make sure your tween is getting the attention, guidance, and stimulation that he or she needs.
My teenager has been responsible for doing the laundry since she was a tween herself. But at the beginning of the summer, we realized that it was time to rotate that responsibility to Charlotte. So every Tuesday this summer, Charlotte has dutifully brought down all the laundry from the upstairs, washed it, dried it, folded it carefully, and taken it back upstairs in baskets for each family member to put away. She is methodical and meticulous, which makes the laundry a much more fitting task for her than it ever was for Sienna. And while she complains sometimes, she also enjoys the privilege of being able to watch TV while she folds laundry (something she long envied her older sister).
2Give them a chance to succeed or fail
One of the reasons I was reluctant to let Charlotte help with dinner was that I hadn’t taken the time to teach her how to saute and chop. But I never taught Sienna those things either — she just found a recipe and started cooking, and I let her. Charlotte is equally capable and twice as careful. She just hasn’t been given many chances to try things on her own. One of the hazards of older siblings is that they perpetually seem older to us parents. We tend to give less freedom and less responsibility to our younger children as the years go on, simply because we don’t notice how much older they have actually gotten. Encourage your tween to take a risk. Let them bake a cake or assemble a piece of furniture. Be available if they have questions, but don’t hover. Let them try and figure it out. Even if they fail, It will be a great teaching moment that will give them the gift of a lesson they will remember for a lifetime.
3Say yes more than no
My oldest has the persistence of a pitbull, so I said yes way more than no out of sheer self-preservation. Second and third children tend to be more docile, less headstrong, and more willing to take no for an answer. But even if they’re the oldest (or the youngest), tweens tend to want to be agreeable. So when your tween asks to do something new, pause for a second and consider before you answer. If there is even a 50/50 chance they can accomplish what they want on their own, say yes. Then walk away and let them try. Reserve your no for situations that require adult supervision — but find a time when you can supervise and put it on the calendar, right then. And if an older sibling is responsible and willing to help supervise, go ahead and say yes. Don’t be afraid that they’ll mess things up — they will. And they’ll learn more from messing things up and fixing them than they’d ever learn from a thousand careful lessons.
Don’t beat yourself up if you realize that, like me, you’ve been overlooking your tween. Another great thing about this stage is that by and large, tweens are agreeable and eager to please. Start changing your ways now. Open your tween’s horizons, and they’ll be beside themselves with eagerness and joy.