Tween trouble?


TRANSITIONAL TIME Parenting a pre-teen can be a challenging and thankless job.

Mind Matters

Jannah Walshe

One day there is a kind and sweet (enough) child in your house who thinks you, as their parent, knows everything … and the next there is this volatile child/adult who thinks you know nothing! This change has typically been associated with becoming a teenager. However, this is no longer correct. Enter the tween or pre-teen phase.
This phase is the period of time between childhood and adolescence where the child prepares and learns how to be a teenager. This is a transitional time, during which your child is trying out a lot of different behaviours. It’s not always smooth sailing for the parents! The top five behaviour problems in pre-teens as listed on the Supernanny website? Not listening to parents, answering back and ‘cheekiness’, refusing to obey when asked to do something, swearing, and secrets and lies. Many parents will be able to identify.
Pre-teens experience a developmental growth spurt, similar to that of a two year old. At both times of life they are learning to exert their own independence. On top of this, pre-teens are also beginning to have hormonal changes, sometimes inciting Jekyll and Hyde-type behaviour.
Parents can feel confused. Your pre-teen refuses to do the things you ask. It sometimes seems like they hate you. They regularly say ‘no’, because they can. They use more advanced language than before, to negotiate with you, deceive you, to answer back and/or rebel against you.
Parenting pre-teens can be a challenging and thankless job. But on the plus side, they still often want to please their parents and can love spending time with family. Parents should try to make the most of this before the teen years fully kick in. But what is the best way to do this?  
As a parent, you must choose your battles and prioritise the values that are most important. Do not be afraid to hold boundaries and consequences. Avoid shouting matches and as much as possible keep your own emotions under control. Be sure to take a time-out for yourself when you think you might be about to lose it.
Try an indirect approach. When they were younger, you could ask direct questions such as ‘How was school?’, ‘How did you do on the test?’ and you got answers. For pre-teens this can feel overwhelming and intrusive. Instead become a listener. Find time each day to sit down, without any questions, and listen. This gives them the message that if there is ever something important that they want to talk about they will have the space to do it and most importantly, it will be heard.
These conversations become the basis for the relationship you’ll have with your children as teenagers and as adults. It strengthens your relationship, and that connection provides them with a sense of security and helps build the resilience they will need. No matter the age of the child, parents are still the anchors, providing love and support.

Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via, or at or 085 1372528.