Jennifer Grant is the author of two books about family: Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter and MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family. She is a journalist and mother of four who freelances for the Chicago Tribune and many other publications and websites, most often writing about health and family matters. Grant is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and a founding member of Redbud Writers Guild. Find her online at jennifergrant.com.
Parenting preschoolers and tweens: you’d think the experience would be entirely different, wouldn’t you? Well, as mature as your tweens sometimes seem – or is that just sassy? – they actually have much in common with those moody, clumsy little creatures they were before they entered elementary school. If parenting your tween-aged child is a struggle, take some comfort in the fact that the tween years – just like the terrible twos – don’t last forever.
Here are some of the qualities tweens and toddlers share:
1. They Enjoy Songs Lyrics Involving the Telephone
Preschool and middle school kids both seem particularly enamored with songs about making phone calls. For the younger set, it may be Raffi’s Bananaphone that they insist on listening to until you can’t stand hearing one more “ring, ring, ring, ring.” Sadly, it’s no easier to endure Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe. After the ninth, “I know it’s crazy, but here’s my number…” you might get heart palpitations. Take a deep breath and know that your child’s musical tastes will evolve and, in a year or two, you might actually enjoy the music they choose.
2. Their Conversation Can Be “So Random”
When he was three or four and you asked what he did at preschool that day or what book she wanted to read, your child’s responses included “Jelly is sticky!” or “Mama, do dolphins sleep with their eyes open?” Conversations with your child were riddled with non-sequiturs. You’ll find your tween also blurts remarks that don’t seem to relate to the conversation. For instance, you might remind him to take out the garbage and find that your son responds with “My gym teacher sucks!” Or you’ll ask, “Would you like a snack?” and instead of hearing the usual “I’m good,” your child might offer a friendly, “No problem.” Do not fear. Before long, conversations with your child will not be “so random.”
3. Their Dental Hygiene is Substandard
What happened to that dutiful little 8 year-old who stood brushing at the bathroom counter and let the sand completely run out of the timer before she rinsed? These days, you notice bits of what look like seaweed between your child’s teeth. “Honey, did you brush today?” At this point, tweens will either admit to having forgotten or will comment on the inferior quality of their cell phones. (“Honey, that was so random!” “Whatever!”) For the first time in years, you will orbit around your children as they get ready for bed, reminding them to put toothpaste on their brushes and to keep scrubbing for more than ten seconds. (The situation is even more dire among those who wear braces.)
4. They Smell
Remember how shocked you were when your beautiful newborn got bigger and began dirtying her diapers in a manner so noxious that your eyes watered? Potty training comes and goes and you are lulled into complacency about the smells your child can emit. Until, that is, said child becomes a tween. Suddenly his sneakers smell like a decomposing goat. Her underarms are a spilled bottle of vinegar. And their morning breath could detonate the Death Star. Don’t panic. Just dig around in the back of the cabinet for that old bottle of Lysol. (You know, the one you doused the house with after a particularly bad diaper blow-out?) Only this time, spray it directly into your son’s shoes and those of his friends when they aren’t looking. Surprise your daughter with fancy shampoos and bubble baths. And wait it out. Even this will pass.
5. They Seem Almost…Narcissistic
When children are tiny, they are very clear about the fact that their needs matter most. They think nothing of brazenly vomiting on you, grabbing that last strawberry from your plate, or waking you from a perfectly delicious – and rare – night’s sleep to announce that their thirst. Well, as tweens, that “I’m the Center of the Universe” mindset returns. Ask her to do her chores before spending the day at the pool? You’re the meanest mom in the world. Tell him he has to wait a half hour before you drive him to the park? Well what is it you’re doing that’s so important? Smile. Act kinder than you feel. And wait it out. They’ll turn fourteen before long and things should return, more or less, to normal.
Remember, the tween years do come to an end. As you did when they were toddlers, give them clear boundaries, be intentional about connecting with them every day, and shower them with lots of love – and body wash – as they make their ways down that bumpy road through adolescence.
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