* The Challenges of Parenting Tweens

By Heather Miller, LCSW, Courier & Press, Oct. 17, 2017 –

“Why did Jack score two goals and I didn’t score any?”  “I’m terrible at soccer.  I should just quit.”  “Everyone else in my class knows how to do this math problem but me.  I’m awful at it.”  “You just don’t understand.”

And so it begins… I have a tween.  With this new label comes a noticeable change in my once easy-going, happy, confident child.  New emotions have set in as well as constant comparisons between my tween and classmates, teammates, and friends.

Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines a tween as a boy or girl who is 11 or 12 years old.  The tween years serve as the transitional years between being a child and becoming a teenager.

With this transition comes uncertainty as to what defines the tween.  This uncertainty manifests in various ways such as tears, angry outbursts, and more seriously, depression and anxiety.

Parents and caregivers are often caught off-guard as to how to help their tween navigate this stage of life.  Following are some tips for helping parents and tweens not only survive these years, but to use them to strengthen relationships.

 First, remember to validate and acknowledge the tween’s feelings.  Give permission for your tween to be sad or angry.

This will assist the tween in feeling comfortable with sharing various emotions with adults.  Additionally, this simple acknowledgement will help the tween trust the adult by knowing their feelings will not be laughed at or dismissed.

During this stage, tweens are attempting to define themselves.  Often this is done by ranking their abilities compared to others.  No matter what the tween is comparing, he or she will always find someone who is better than them.

Adults can help by directing praise and compliments toward character traits rather than abilities or accomplishments.  Praising a tween for getting a B in math will likely be followed by the response, “but so and so got an A.”

Focusing on the traits that resulted in the tween earning the B will assist the tween with recognizing the positive traits he or she possesses.  In this situation, stating, “You showed a lot of patience when learning the new material in math.  It would have been easy to give up, but you continually gave it your all,” will bring the focus to the traits of patience and perseverance rather than a letter grade, which serves as a ranking system.

The most important factor in helping your tween is to be available.  According to World of Psychology, it is imperative to give your tween options to communicate their feelings to you.  Allowing your child to choose whether to talk face-to-face, by text, or by calling you about emotions and situations will increase the likelihood of your tween coming to you with concerns and for support.

If you find that your tween is experiencing more serious emotional outbursts or is becoming increasingly withdrawn and isolated, additional assistance may be needed.

Contacting your school’s Youth First Social Worker with these concerns can result in early intervention.   Early intervention by a professional is beneficial to help tweens learn coping skills before the emotions become too intense and overwhelming.

* Encouraging a Positive Body Image

By Brooke Skipper, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 22, 2017 –

The word “FAT” …we’ve all said it about ourselves.  We eat a big meal or try on an outfit and declare, “I feel so FAT!”

Like all things we say and do, our children pick up on this “feeling” of being fat.  They watch us pinch and poke and criticize our bodies in the mirror; then they model that same behavior.

The end result is a new generation of kids with negative body images and all the consequences that come with it.

Young people with a positive body image feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to succeed in life.  They don’t obsess about calorie intake or their weight.  They understand that eating is about fueling their body to enjoy physical activity and remain healthy.  They see their body as beautiful for the things it accomplishes, not its outward appearance.

On the other hand, when children have a negative body image, they feel more self-conscious, anxious  and depressed.  They are at greater risk for developing eating disorders and unhealthy habits in general.

 So, what can we do as parents to help promote a healthy, positive body image in our children?  Here are five ways you can instill this in your child.
  1. First and foremost, we need to check our own body image issues.  Our children think we are beautiful. If they hear us constantly putting ourselves down or expressing a desire to change the way we look, they will begin to question their view of their own bodies.  Pay attention to how you talk about food and weight.  Model positive body imaging in all you do.
  2. Talk in terms of what is healthy, not in terms of weight.  Never use words like fat or skinny.  Use the words healthy and unhealthy.  (i.e.- It is healthy for us to eat nutritious meals every day to fuel our body for the energy we need to do our day-to-day tasks.  It is healthy for us to be physically active and keep our body functioning at its best.  It is unhealthy to restrict calories or starve ourselves.  Make eating healthy, balanced meals and getting exercise part of everyday life so it becomes routine habit, not just a way to lose weight.)
  3. Eliminate the myth of the picture-perfect body.  Children are inundated with media images constantly.  In television, movies  and magazines, they see unrealistic bodies and believe those images are what they need to attain.  Beyond the Photoshop world of standard media, children have a steady stream of social media on their electronic devices.  This makes it so easy to compare their body type to that of their peers and to obsess over the perfect selfie angles and filters to achieve the look that will garner the most “likes.”  Remind your child that beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
  4. Be holistic in your compliments to your child.  Particularly with girls, it is habit to compliment their appearance.  Instead, use compliments that address your child’s skills, strengths and personal qualities.  Remind your child there is so much more to her than the way she looks.
  5. Be aware of body changes at puberty  and avoid commenting on size or shape of body parts.  Children’s bodies can change dramatically at puberty, leading some children to feel insecure about their bodies.  Puberty also happens at different times for children, so lack of change can lead to your child feeling insecure as well.  It is important to talk to children about the normal changes to expect at puberty to help prepare them.  Being sensitive to these changes helps your child feel more comfortable with their body and you.
Remember, boys are just as susceptible to developing a negative body image as girls.  It is important to apply these tips to all children.  Like most things in parenting, a healthy, happy, body-positive child starts with you!