As the back to school frenzy begins, parents watch for school supply lists, new outfit sales, and scheduling changes. The most important back to school to-do list, however, won’t be found at any store. If you have a tween daughter, here is the top five list of what you should do leading up to that first day of school:
5. Identify stress relievers. One of the best things you can do for girls this age is to arm them with ways to cope with the upsets that occur during the tween years. Ask your daughter to imagine that she is bending over to pick something up and her pants split right down the middle, eliciting laughter from the crowd around her. See if she can brainstorm five ways to make herself feel better during that moment. Really let her brainstorm, but help out if you need to – call home, tell her friends she needs their support, think of other people who have survived embarrassment, think of something she is looking forward to in the near future, say a prayer, think of funny or happy thoughts, etc. Then ask her to imagine that she is having a tough year with her group of friends, ask her to brainstorm five longer-term stress relievers – journaling, daily walks (I love ones that involve physical activity), going out for frozen yogurt with a parent, baking, sewing, etc.
Talking about stress relievers often will increase the likelihood that she will be able to summon one up in a time of need. This may seem simplistic or unnecessary at this age; but as she gets older, thinking of taking a walk before taking a drink is a major win.
4. Be aware that others are struggling. This is an age that girls are increasingly concerned with their appearance to others and their social standing. This makes them understandably, but frustratingly, self-absorbed (friends have suggested I say snotty little balls of unpleasantness, but I’ll stick with self-absorbed to keep it positive!). Acknowledge that you get how important peer acceptance is, and that she might be nervous about how this year will go, but let her know that everyone is struggling with the same thing. Some kids may seem like they don’t care about what other people think, or they act like the teasing that is happening doesn’t bother them, but explain that regardless of how it appears – everyone has something they worry about and NO ONE likes to be made fun of. Depending on the age and personality of your tween, you may or may not still know how anything works in the world. But even if you have reached idiot-status in her world, please continue to insist that she attempt to see beyond her own inner world.
3. Do something nice. While we are attempting to shift some of her focus onto the struggle that others are going through, let’s continue this by asking her to do something nice. Sometimes I have found that tweens need specific suggestions rather than just saying “do something nice.” Ask her to smile at someone who she would not normally smile at, or say hello to someone other than her friends – bonus points if she says hello followed by the use of this other person’s name. Ask her to be on the lookout for someone who looks like he or she needs help, if someone who is not her friend drops her papers, she could actually help her pick them up. You get the idea, think of specific and reasonable ways for her to show kindness to others, and ask her to do them.
2. Be aware of friend dynamics. Learn the ways in which groups of girls this age operate, and explain them to her. Avoiding the downside of popularity by learning that she may be used by others to create a negative clique puts her in a good position to choose her friends, and her behavior, wisely. See below for a suggestion (read: shameless plug) on the way to learn about these dynamics.
1. Listen! More specifically, listen more than you speak. Now I realize I’ve just listed four other items that require you to speak. You can’t get through parenting a tween girls without speaking to her about important things. But make sure to find time to be quiet! Ask her what she’s excited about for the upcoming school year, and maybe what she’s anxious about, and then just LISTEN to the answer. Don’t point out things she may have missed, or rattle off answers to her issues, or give her a bunch of “you know what you should dos.” The more you demonstrate that you hear what she’s saying, the easier you become to approach. In the wise words of my own daughter at age 11, “you know mom, not everything has to be a lesson.” Yeah, I learned to shut my mouth once in a while.
I can’t help but point out that these pearls of wisdom are just a sampling of what you will find in my book on parenting tween girls, Between Baby Dolls and Boyfriends. I spell these out in more detail, and include other information on puberty, bullying, cyberbullying, and how to create a meaningful bond with your daughter through these years and into the teens. I would love to know about your experience with your tween daughter, and what you would add to this list!