Dear Parents: Introducing… Your Preteen!
Something interesting happens to your child between the ages of nine and twelve. Like a caterpillar entering a cocoon, he begins to build his own world, separate from the one you’ve made for him as a youngster. In that cocoon, several transformations occur. There are the physical changes that prepare him for puberty. There is also marked emotional growth, as he begins to come into his own person and make some attempts towards independence. Socially, he branches out beyond the familiar network he grew up with, to create his own social circles. Psychologically, you may notice him alternating between doubt and confidence. That confusion is characteristic of this stage, when children find themselves in a fluid state of being ‘in-between’.
Yes, your child is now a preteen! He’s in that wonderful yet sometimes confusing phase between being a child and being a full-fledged teenager. During this stage, your child won’t be the only one going through transitions. You too as a parent will need to revolutionize your parenting skills as well.
With your preteen, be ready to shift your role from teacher to coach. Your child already knows the ‘WHATs’ and ‘HOWs’ of the right thing to do. You’ve pretty much nailed that down in the first eight years. What he needs from you now is guidance on the WHYs of it being right, so that he can understand the principles behind correct actions and decisions. Help him to grasp the values, beliefs and principles upon which your lessons on proper behavior are grounded. Once absorbed, he’ll learn to apply them consistently later on, even when you’re not around.
You’ll also need to redefine disciplining your child. Instead of aiming for him to simply obey your instructions, develop his responsibility to do what’s right without needing to be told. Furthermore, underline the value that you want to ingrain. You can do this with self-reinforcing contracts that incorporate a reward or withhold a privilege, depending on how your preteen upholds his end of the deal. Joe’s story is a concrete example.
When Joe began middle school, his parents asked him if he felt ready to receive a weekly allowance. Joe excitedly agreed, because it was a real step up from the milk-money they gave him everyday in grade school. He received his first real allowance on Monday morning and he was told that this was his money for the entire week. By Wednesday afternoon however, Joe found that he’d spent it all! Since it was the first week they were trying this, Joe’s parents decided to be lenient. They still gave him milk money for both Thursday and Friday. They also thought up a contract that would help Joe manage his weekly allowance better.
This was the deal. Joe had to make his allowance last the whole week. If he ran out of money before then, he would not be given any more until his next allowance on the following Monday. However, if he was able to save some of his allowance by the end of the week, not only he could keep the saved money in his piggy bank, but his parents would also match the amount he had saved and give him that money for deposit into his savings account at the bank.
With this contract, Joe learned to become more responsible in handling his allowance. After going through one penniless Friday, he learned how to budget his spending. He had enough money for each day, and he was even able to save some in his piggy bank for whatever else he may need or really want later on. Furthermore, Joe’s parents modeled for him the value of saving. Now Joe knows that because he’s using his allowance wisely, he’s also saving money in the bank for his important needs in the future.
Re-engineered parenting during the preteen years, not only shifts accountability to your child, it also allows you to finally rest from having to make constant reminders just to get things done. That should come as a relief to you. For some parents however, they worry about easing up on their control. True, parenting a preteen entails some stepping back on your part, some letting go. Sometimes, you may even have to watch him make mistakes. That’s hard for any parent, but trust that you’ve trained your child well in the earlier years. Now it’s time for the run-throughs to see how he’ll keep going on his own. Your child’s preteen years are a great opportunity for this carefully guided simulation of managing himself wisely when he’s a teenager.
One thing you have in your preteen is a child who’s old enough to understand, but who’s young enough to be pliable. This is the time to let him explore his growing independence, yet still gently reel him in once in a while to make adjustments and realign his behavior as needed. Think of it as parental ‘product testing’. That means lots of trial and error blanketed in love, before you proudly and confidently release your masterpiece into the world market!