Teens and Tweens: Toddlerhood Revisited

If you are the parent of an adolescent between 11 and 16 years old, listen up!

Our children are amazing and smart and funny and rude and mean and delightful and deceptive and disrespectful and loving and caring and selfish—what I mean to say is, they are full of contradictions. One moment they are fine and cooperative, then the next they are angry, hurtful, and may even hate us. Are you with me? Excellent, I see some of you nodding and smiling. Stay with me for a few minutes, I have a strategy to share with you which I think you’ll find helpful.

When our children are born, we have so much hope for them: big expectations for their future successes and the desire to raise the best kid ever. This is all good and vital for the world and peace at home, but what about your children’s emerging sense of self? From the time our children begin to walk as toddlers, we teach them that they can do anything they put their minds to, and that with a lot of practice they can accomplish great things. We are creating their sense of self—who they are, and their sense of self-worth. We are also empowering them to be their own person, to be independent, to be a team player, to get along.

So as our children grow and learn, we teach them the rules, set boundaries and limits for them, structure their lives, explain how to be respectful, share our beliefs, motivate them, and then we encourage them to think on their own. All good! Yes!

Now jump ahead to your children as preteens and teenagers. They are physically bigger, capable of completing tasks independently, very verbal, and still quite ego-centric.

As our children reach “prematurity”—when they are simultaneously able and unable to be independent—our universal parent belief is to make them accountable without having to direct their every move. Our parent belief says that we are done with helping them every step of the way, since we know they can succeed independently, and we had to assist them and guide them when they were toddlers.

Here’s the strategy: it involves a new parenting belief that may come as an epiphany for some of you. During these preteen and teen years, our children may actually be in emotional toddlerhood again!

Yes, it may be hard to wrap your brain around it. But if we are to set our children up for succes during this prematurity stage, we must entertain the thought that a “guided toddler” can reach set goals, as well as a “guided teen” and “‘tween!”

In my practice, I work with well-meaning and loving parents who expect their ‘tweens and teens to get things done without positive parental backup, with only negative parental ridicule and frustration. I frequently hear, “Why does it have to be a battle?” “They can do that without my help!” “They’re lazy, why don’t they just do it?”

Now, I’m feeling there may be some elevated stress happening. Let’s relax and take three slow, deep yoga breaths, one at a time. Be sure you are seated comfortably without crossing your legs or arms. Be mindful of your breathing and stress levels. Breathe slowly in through your nose, inflating your abdomen like a balloon, without lifting your shoulders. Hold your breath for a moment, then very slowly exhale through your mouth until your abdomen is flat, like letting the air out of the balloon. Breathe normally for a few moments. Repeat two more slow, deep yoga breaths. So, are you more relaxed?

Here’s a strategy to set them up for success. Too many times, we use our parent power to step out of the game, “set them up for failure,” and then watch them fail. What is the message we are communicating to our children when we set them up to fail? It is far more effective for parents to step back into the game and guide our ‘tweens and teens towards success. When our children were toddlers, we gave them the directions and stood by letting them do it, guiding as they went. Then we praised them with big smiles, hugs, and high-fives! As they got better and better, we may have stepped away, then come back to check on them, either correcting or praising.

Use this method to re-engage with your ‘tween or teen: give the direction and provide follow up, spaced out earlier with corrections and praises. ‘Tweens and teens tell me they want their parents’ attention, so do some of the task with them, or just hang out with them and praise, praise, praise!

The new parent mindset is not one of defeat or family failure. Rather, it’s the idea of being our children’s coach and continuing to help them reach their goals with our help. This “second toddlerhood” can be a positive, reconnecting stage for us with our children. It lets them know we are still their parents and very much involved in their lives. It sends them messages that they are very special and worthy of our time, and that we want to give them positive attention—all of this fosters mutual respect.

It’s never too late to try this strategy, even if the battle’s already on. Helping and guiding is still the role of a parent, even when our children are back in prematurity toddlerhood!

You can do it! Take a deep yoga breath to start!

© Copyright 2010 by Beth S. Pumerantz, LMFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Bethany

    September 22nd, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    I remember these crazy years so well! One minute you wantt o be a kid and the enxt you just want to hide and never have to deal with your parents again. Glad those crazy hormones did not take too long in my case to level out for while I know it was hard on me I think my parents felt like they were being tortured. Sorry Mom and Dad :)

  • layla j

    September 23rd, 2010 at 4:51 AM

    And giving them the tools that they need to learn how to address the issues that are dealt to them. I think that many times teens act out in the same way that toddlers do is because parents have neevr given the the resources that they need to make informed decisions about what their actions will do themselves or to others. They have never been given the chance to think things through for themselves. And you know what? Sometimes we have to allow them to fail before they can learn what successful decision making is all about.

  • wilson M.

    September 23rd, 2010 at 6:48 AM

    a lot of parents just do not know how to change their behavior as their kid is growing up.I still feel this way about my own parents because even after I have reached college they still treat me like a little kid!I recently gifted them a book on how to adapt to changes as your child is growing up.I just hope more and more parents read literature regarding the same.

  • Beth Pumerantz

    September 28th, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    A parenting plan is a great way to help parents clearly focus on how to raise healthy kids, at all stages of development. It can be a force, of sorts, that reminds us to breathe through the drama without blowing it all out of porportion allowing us to better guide our ‘tweens and teens through it all. We must remember what the whole goal of parenthood is…to raise amazing kids who will in turn do amazing things in this world! I believe in you all!!

  • Kensington

    October 13th, 2010 at 7:20 AM

    I was thinking yesterday about how my mom’s old adage about “Life begins at 40” has so much truth to it. I’m 44 now and I love how all the mistakes and experiences I had in my 20’s and 30’s brought me to where I’m comfortable with life, boundaries and relationships now in a way I wasn’t before. It got me thinking about why does it take so long to get here, which made me look at childhood and adolescence in a whole new way. Those first 18 years have some amazing amounts of things to learn. From walking and talking to starting school to navigating puberty – it’s a wonder we can get it all done in that amount of years. It’s imperative that parents try to be positive and model how a child can learn to be positive as they go through these trying years.

  • Beth Pumerantz

    October 20th, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    I agree! Parents have an amazing opportunity to help guide their children to become amazing people! It truly is terrific the amount of learning that children go through from birth to adulthood, and in a short amount of time. It’s a tough job to be a parent, and a huge blessing as well!

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