Living with a tween can be much like being at a “hair band” rock concert; power love ballads intermixed with angry, head banging, guitar smashing rock.

As their moods swing rapidly from love and adoration to hate and contempt, it can be quite a sight! Their view on the world they live in is beginning to change. They really start looking at fairness, and how the world is full of injustices that they want to change, but don’t have the power to do so.

This goes for the injustices that exist in their personal world as well — family, friends and school:

  • My sister is annoying and always gets her way
  • You never let me do anything I want
  • Nobody understands me
  • My friends create too much drama
  • The teachers don’t know how to control the classroom
  • The principal doesn’t know how to run the school

There are times when nothing you say or do is right and if you push too hard, they go into hiding (figuratively and literally)! They can have tantrums like a toddler (a.k.a., “middle school meltdowns”), and the littlest things often set them off. Sometimes you are truly wondering what this thing is that has taken over your sweet child.

Welcome to the middle school years.

This is a time a rapid change and growth in all aspects of development. In fact, according to Parenting.com (2010), “After infancy, the tween and teen years are the period of most rapid change.”

Tweens are not only growing physically, but also emotionally and cognitively. This period of time is often just as confusing and frustrating for the tween as it is for those around them, especially parents.

So, what to do? How do you parent such a tumultuous child?

1. Remember that mood swings (including bouts of minor depression) are completely normal.

They will cry, scream, stomp, slam doors, throw insults and lock themselves in their room. Sometimes it is best to just ride out the storm and not engage.

When they are in the “love ballad” stage and actually like you, that can be a good time to talk about certain issues including appropriate ways for them to handle their moods. Many times, kids will think there is something wrong with them because of their mood swings, you can tell them that it is because of hormones and because their brain is changing so much. Let them know that you went through it, their friends are going through it and that although it can feel rotten, this too shall pass.

Discuss appropriate coping skills such as writing or journaling, listening to music, reading, exercising, talking to a friend, taking some deep breaths, taking a nap, spending time with a pet or taking a time out.

2. Don’t feel like you have to solve their problems for them, and don’t tell them that their issues “are not a big deal.”

At this age, even the little things are big deals! Empathizing with phrases such as “I’m sorry you have to go through this,” “It’s really hard when a friend ignores you” and “I know homework can be really overwhelming,” lets them know you get it.

Sometimes you can say nothing and just offer a hug and send the same message. Once I had no idea what had my daughter so upset. She couldn’t even tell me at that point. She was crying and melting down, and all I could do was hug her and let her cry it out. When she calmed down she was able to tell me what was bothering her and we talked about how she wanted to handle it.

In my clinical practice that seems to be filled with tweens right now, what I hear most from them is that nobody understands them. As a parent, if you can say some things that let them know you understand how they feel at the time, it can go a long way. They don’t want to be judged; they don’t even want their “mean friend” or “evil stepmom” to be judged by you, they just want to be able to express themselves safely and freely.

Meet them where they are emotionally; they don’t want to hear “But your dad loves you,” “Your teacher is only doing his job” or “That’s what happens when you don’t study.” Deep down, they already know that — they don’t need to hear it from you. They want to be mad or frustrated or upset, it’s ok and normal. Let them feel!

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This article came from the great minds at
Thriveworks Counseling, Birmingham.