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January 10th, 2021

Understanding your pre-teen

Child Therapy

by Shannon Burton, MSW RSW
Registered Paediatric Social Worker

What is a “Tween”?

What age is pre-teen? Pre-adolescence, often referred to as the “tween” years (defined loosely as the years between eight or nine to twelve) is a time of major shifts in your child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. It’s a time of becoming independent but it can also be scary and challenging for kids. So while it’s completely normal for your child to start separating from you and leaning more on their friends, children this age are still very much in need of parental support and guidance – even if they say otherwise. In order to help your tween best, you need to understand how they are changing both inside and out.

Physical Changes

For girls, you might  start to see early physical changes from about 10-11 years – but this can happen as young as 8,  or as old as 13. For boys, physical changes usually start around 11-12 years – but this can happen as young as 9, or as old as 14. Some parents feel as if their little kids have morphed into new people practically overnight. Physical changes can cause tweens to become really self-conscious about their bodies (awkwardness, clumsiness often occurs). 

Brain development

The combination of your child’s brain makeup and environment influences the way your child acts, thinks and feels. For example, your child’s interests and skills might become “hard-wired” in the brain. How pre-teens spend their time is crucial to brain development. With this being said, it is important that parents think about diversifying  the activities and experiences for pre-teens – music, sports, study, languages, video games.  Further, family relationships and peers are an important part of your child’s environment. These connections have an affect on teens’ brain development.

Emotions and your Tween

You might notice that your tween shows strong feelings and intense emotions which at times seem to come from nowhere. Their moods might seem unpredictable, and these emotional ups and downs can lead to increased conflict. This is partly because your tween’s brain is still learning how to control and express emotions in an “adult” way. At the same time, your tween might be more sensitive to their parents’ emotions. But while they are gaining a better understanding of others emotions, they might sometimes misread facial expressions and body language. Ultimately having seemingly unexpected emotional expressions. Your child is likely to be more self-conscious, especially about their physical appearance and changes. Tween self-esteem is often affected by appearance, or by how kids think they look. As your tween develops, they might compare their body with those of their friends and peers. And your tween might go through a stage of acting without thinking (impulsive control). Further, your tween’s decision-making skills are still developing. They are still learning that actions have consequences and even risks sometimes.

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