What I Wish I’d Known About Transitioning to the Big Kid YearsJuly 3, 2019
When your child is an adorable, squishy baby, you can’t wait for them to sleep through the night. Then, you’re in the throes of the terrible twos, followed by potty training, having a ‘threenager,’ and kindergarten prep. It’s so fun, but also frustrating at the same time, and sometimes you find yourself wondering when your kids will be big enough to do more things themselves. But, alas, as parents of older kids wisely remind us, the “big kid” years—sometimes called the tweens—come with some bigger issues of their own. We rounded up the best advice from parents of certified big kids for how to make it through the transition.
Help as needed—but let them be more independent. “Big kids” still need their parents’ help, of course, especially if they’re starting a new intermediate or middle school. But it’s also key to let them spread their wings. “We have started giving him more freedom which is scary, but my husband and I both think necessary,” says Lisa C., mom of an 11-year-old son in New York. Think: letting them go on outings and bike rides around the neighborhood with friends, without adult supervision. “I think the hardest part is finding the balance between letting them know you are here for support, hugs, helping them organize their stuff—and even to remind them to shower!— but also being able to let go.”
Consider letting them have a cell phone, but set limits. Delay as you might, many parents agree phones are age-appropriate for tweens. “It is a good way to be able to reach or child or have them reach you for something important. However, I do think that in middle school, their usage of the phone should be limited,” says Lisa B., mom of 17- and 19-year-old boys in Florida. “They do not need to spend unlimited amounts of time playing mindless games. Each family has their own rules but, for us, phones do not need to be included at a meal. Parents should also have access to their kids’ phones and monitor what apps and social media their kids are using. I have always had my kids’ passwords and I think that parental involvement helps to ensure that they post appropriate things.” While your kid may view their phone as a necessity, many parents recommend treating them as a privilege. Think: no chores or homework done, no phone.
Give them more adult responsibilities… “My biggest advice to start teaching preteens and teenagers to be who you want them to be in their 20’s now,” says Jamie, mom of a 10-, 12- and 14-year-old in Indiana. “As my kids have transitioned into their preteen and teenage years, parenting has shifted to character-building. They are now old enough where we serve together in the community—like helping in the nursery at church, service projects—and our home (chores). We encourage them to grow in their faith and beliefs by attending youth group. We have begun giving them allowance and have them save and give, [and to] teach them about budgeting and spending.”
…But, sometimes, let them be quitters. As kids get older, the opportunities for sports, activities and instruments explode. Robin, mom of a 9-year-old in New Jersey, says it’s okay to try everything once—and to leave it behind, too: “Yes, they need to finish out the soccer season even if they haaaaaaate it. But it’s okay to play soccer one season, then switch to baseball the next, then go out for hockey after that… childhood is supposed to be about exploring different things. Besides, it’s okay if we [adults] quit hot yoga. Why should it be any different for our kids?”
Put peer pressure in perspective. One of the biggest bid kid challenges? Dealing with social angst, bullying, and cliques. “When my kids started to realize that their friends were forming cliques, I didn’t let them categorize any group into ‘the popular kids’ category,” says Rebecca, mom to a 15-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy in Virginia. “Instead, we use the term, ‘alpha kids.’ This way, we’re not entitling any population with a desirable label, because the kids in these groups aren’t always kind or generous. Because we have a dog, the kids understand that alpha means a strong, dominant personality and that doesn’t always equal kind. I’ve had to explain what ‘alpha’ means to a few of their friends and they totally get it. I do get an occasional eye roll, but it seems to work.”
Pick your battles. Relations between older kids and their parents can start to get prickly (sob!). So, exert your authority when it matters most (i.e. when it comes to their safety or school issues)—and, within reason, let smaller things, like clothes, go. “My mom constantly comments on what my daughter is wearing if she feels the skirt to too short or the pants too tight/revealing,” Rebecca adds. “We have to be so conscientious of body image, but as long as the outfit is appropriate for the occasion, let them wear what they want. If they’re comfortable and confident, let them embrace their own personal style. So what if my 12-year old wants to wear shorts in the middle of winter? If he’s comfortable (and warm enough), I’m okay with that.”
Keep the lines of communication open. Tweens have been known to start withdrawing from their parents. So, establish yourself as a sounding board whenever possible. “When they come to you with something bad, stay calm. Don’t overreact. You want them to keep coming to you,” says Amy O. of New Jersey. After all, you never get too old to need your mom.