Buckle up your seat belt?living with a preteen is a bumpy ride. Your 11-year-old may discuss the next election at the dinner table, then fall apart when she can't find the perfect outfit for tomorrow. Your 9-year-old may be on the principal's honors list one week and get hauled into the office for correction the next.
These are the times that try parents' souls: these in-between years, when we're impressed with our child's intellectual growth one minute and depressed by his emotional immaturity the next. These years resemble a tightrope act, requiring parents to maintain tremendous balance and tenacity. As a parent, it's hard to remember that although our kids are acting worldly, wise, and independent, inside is a child who wants and needs to be parented.
The preteen brain is beginning to process information in a whole new way, moving from concrete thinking to more abstract ideas. These changes can leave a child feeling confused and frustrated. To help our children learn to balance their ever-changing emotions, the first thing we need to do is manage our own.
At difficult moments, take heart in the fact that this is a temporary condition. For a season it will be painfully obvious that your child's intellect and emotions are running on different timetables, with the emotions lagging behind. Perhaps this is best represented by the all too familiar parental thought, What were you thinking?
Even as your child runs full speed ahead in acquiring knowledge and reasoning skills, he will need time?and many parental words of wisdom?to become skilled in applying these intellectual resources to emotional problems.
Keep in mind too, that your child is even more thrown by these changes than you are. Like a beginning highwire artist, your child is stepping into unfamiliar realms, lifted above the solid footing he has known. Each step toward adulthood takes on more importance, each slip appears more costly.
As parents, our job is to help our children not only learn to avoid falling, but to help them recover quickly and safely when they feel themselves losing balance?as surely they will. When you see your child lose his footing, flailing towards the emotional side, stay calm and offer tender encouragement to help him regain his balance and ease him back into control.
It's also essential that you avoid taking his emotions personally. They are not really aimed at you. They're just a part of growing up.
Keep your sense of humor, and cut your child a reasonable amount of slack. Be quick to forgive. Tightrope walking?like life?is not about a continuously perfect balance, but more a series of adjustments as the equilibrium changes. It's only by losing balance and regaining it many times that your child will eventually find it, becoming more graceful and confident as he learns.
Kids on the cusp of turning in to teens bring new challenges that often thwart even the best parent's confidence. You can find real help in Dr. James Dobson's Parenting Isn't for Cowards (Word). Dr. Dobson offers specific advice to frustrated parents on the subjects that cause you the greatest concern. Give it a read and before long you'll feel ready to tackle just about anything your child can dish out.
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Christian Parenting Today.