Are you wondering how you can best help your baby or toddler to grow and develop? How to encourage their brain, intelligence, language and physical skills? Perhaps you’re looking at the best developmental toys or activities to buy or do? Actually, it’s a lot simpler (and cheaper) thank you think! Here are the top 5 ways to grow and nurture your child to reach their full potential:
1. Hug them lots!
The best way to help to support your child’s development is to be responsive to their needs. When they cry, pick them up and try to avoid leaving them to cry alone. Babies and toddlers can’t self-settle. They need us to act as external regulators. Holding your baby in your arms helps to secrete hormones which grow the part of the brain responsible for emotion regulation. You can’t ever spoil a child with love or hold them too much!
2. Look after your own mental & physical health.
To be responsive to your baby’s needs, you need to meet your own needs too. This means that looking after your physical and mental health is a key part of helping your baby to develop. We live in a society that is not especially supportive of new parents, having a baby or toddler is hard work at the best of times – but with the pressures of life at the moment, it’s even tougher. If you are struggling you may find my book ‘How to be a Calm Parent‘ helpful.
3. Expose them to music.
Music has a wonderful effect on the developing brain, it can help babies and toddlers to feel calmer and also helps with the development of language. You don’t need to have any musical skill or talent though, your child is not that discerning! Singing nursery rhymes (however off key), humming along to a radio station swaying with your baby or toddler in your arms, or making up your own tunes are just perfect.
4. Read to them.
The more words a baby or toddler hears, the larger their vocabulary and their literacy skills will be as they grow. Reading is a lovely way for partners to bond, for instance taking the role of reading a bedtime story every night. Don’t worry if your baby or toddler never looks at the pages, doesn’t seem to pay attention, or would rather eat the book, your reading will still have an impact!
5. Play with them.
Play is the primary tool of learning. You don’t need expensive developmental toys though, simple games of pat-a-cake or peek-a-boo are more than enough. Pull funny faces, blow raspberries and have fun!
The simplest, and most positive, answer is simply – their real names. That means:
For girls: Vulva (the outside part) and Vagina (the inside tube). For boys: Penis and Testicles (the inside balls) and Scrotum (the outside sac).
This idea makes many parents cringe with embarrassment and disgust. This reaction is the very reason why it is so very important to use the correct anatomical terminology with children (and when I say children, I mean babyhood and up, it’s never too early!). The more adults use these terms around their children, the more likely children are to grow up without the cringe-factor that so many adults struggle with. There is nothing dirty, or inappropriate about the anatomical terminology.
Why else should you use the correct anatomical names? For girls in particular, other names can cause issues with body image and perception. For instance, terms such as ‘front bottom’, ‘wee wee’, ‘bum bum’ and similar, subconsciously imply that the vulva and vagina is somehow dirty and equates it with urine and poo, rather than sexual pleasure and conception/birth. This can absolutely impact the relationship a girl has with her body – and sexual organs – as she grows.
Finally, pet names – ‘floof’, ‘fanny’, ‘minnie’, ‘noonie’, ‘mary’, ‘fairy’, ‘lulu’, ‘willy’, ‘percy’, ‘bits’ and so on, are ambiguous. This means if a child is sexually abused, they may struggle conveying what has happened accurately to an adult. For instance a girl saying “he touched my fairy” may be misconstrued as somebody touching her doll without permission. Using the correct anatomical names is the best way to keep children safe.
Yes, it can feel awkward using the correct names at first, but you soon get over the embarrassment – and actually, it could have a positive effect on you too!
Our society is obsessed with children respecting adults. As children get older, our focus on this respect for elders increases. We tolerate what we deem as ‘disrespectful behaviour’ from toddlers and preschoolers, but once children are of school age our tolerance wanes. We take their backchat, rudeness and refusal to listen or do what we tell them to do as an indication that they are lacking in respect for us and we meet it with punishments, chastisements and consequences. We are wrong.
Firstly, this apparent disrespect is actually an indication of immature brain development. It isn’t pre-meditated. It isn’t personal. It’s a young person struggling with big emotions and a lack of impulse control. We are the adult here, we need to meet their outbursts with graciousness and understanding, however triggered we may feel by them. Staying calm and mature doesn’t mean we are permissive, or ‘too soft’. It means we are well-informed, conscious of the underlying cause of the outbursts and the impact our response will have.
Children need the same parenting whatever age they are, 2 or 20 (and anything in between). They don’t need “a firmer hand” as they get older (in fact they almost need more understanding and support!). They need us to be understanding and empathic. They need us to teach by being a great role model. They need us to stay calm and stay connected; these are the groundworks that will help children to learn best. Punishment, shaming, most artificially imposed consequences and the like don’t earn respect from children, they create the very opposite of respect. They fracture the relationship and create fear of retribution. At best they cause short-lived compliance. They are poor educators and ineffective forms of discipline, whether you have a toddler or a teen. Never confuse fear and compliance with respect – they couldn’t be more different.
If this article has piqued your interest in gentle discipline, check out my new discipline book. It is released under the title ‘The Gentle Discipline Book‘ in the UK and under the title ‘Gentle Discipline‘ in the USA and Canada. The book covers common tricky behaviours from babyhood right the way through to the teen years and how to cope with them in a gentle and effective way
Hands up if you struggle to be a playful parent? For some, being playful comes naturally, for others it can feel a little awkward and stilted. If you’re in the latter category, give these tips a try:
1. View play as a ‘must have’, not ‘nice to have’.
We are so busy with adult life, that playing with our children often sinks to the bottom of our to-do lists. Viewing play as important, not as time wasted that could be better spent elsewhere, is the way forward. 15 minutes playing with your child is infinitely more valuable than 15 minutes sending emails, or vacuuming the carpet.
2. Play at your child’s level, not your own.
What does this mean? It means not inventing mature games or activities that you think your child would like, or that you believe to be age appropriate or good developmentally. Watch and observe how your child plays and join in. It doesn’t have to make sense to you and it doesn’t have to have an obvious teaching moment.
3. Reconnect with your inner child. As we grow we learn to be more self-conscious, we lose the value of play and we lose the skills to be great at it. Sometimes we need to go deep inside and remember how thrilling it is to be silly, how fun it is to lose ourselves in our imaginations. Dig deep and remember what you enjoyed at their age – did you like skipping/jump ropes, jumping in muddy puddles, Painting with your fingers? You’re not too old for those things now!
4. Make everyday chores more playful. Invent a bedtime song, a tidying up dance, or a family race to get shoes on when it’s time to go out. Play can be incorporated into every aspect of family life. It doesn’t have to be a specific play time to make something more fun.
5. Get into role playing and drama. Remember how fun it was to play schools, shops, or mums and dads as a child? Role playing/acting out different characters is such a lovely way to play with children, it’s also a great way to encourage them to do things they don’t usually want to do (e.g: pretending to be a dinosaur hunter when brushing teeth, or a grooming chimpanzee when brushing hair).
Arguably, the way we, as parents and carers, handle our own finances – the example we set to our tweens and what we teach them about money – will be the strongest influence on how they handle their own personal finances as they grow. I’ve always found it strange, and a little worrying, that this area is omitted from school lessons. After all, it’s something we all need to understand as adults and yet our tweens and teens are so ill prepared. I thought I had done a pretty good job when my children were small, until one day, at a festival, my then six- or seven-year-old pointed out a cash machine with a ‘Free money withdrawals’ sign. He called me over and said, ‘Look, Mum – they’re giving away free money. Quick, get some out!’. I spent the next half-hour explaining bank accounts, credit and debit cards and cash-machine withdrawal fees to him, pointing out that sadly, it wasn’t the money that was free, but the withdrawal.
Fast-forward a couple of years and I was sitting in the living room watching TV with another of my sons. An advert came on for a home-equity-release company. My son thought it sounded like a great idea and suggested that we should call the company and request they pay us some money. It took several minutes to explain to him that it wasn’t quite as simple as calling up and requesting free cash.
The financial pitfalls of the modern-day world are complex and many. From understanding payday loans to interest-free credit purchases, buy-now-pay-later schemes and companies offering to buy any vehicle (for considerably less than the market value), there is an urgent need for our tweens to understand the financial world they are about to enter into. And yet there is so little formal schooling on these issues. It’s vital, then, that parents and carers themselves raise their tweens with a sound financial education.
What does your tween need to know about money? The best way to discuss money with your tween is to bring it up in discussions that happen organically – say, in response to an advert on TV or a real-life event. If you are mindful of the need to teach your tween about money, you will find plenty of opportunities to naturally talk about it.
Pocket money is an important way for tweens to learn about money experientially, as is giving them the opportunity to earn their own money. We’ll look at these ideas a little more later on in this chapter. For now, here’s a list of financial topics that I would aim for your tween to understand as they approach their teen years:
• The difference between a credit and a debit card. • The difference between a credit balance and debt
• The difference between a prearranged and unauthorised overdraft. • How interest rates work (for purchases and earning interest on savings). • How to look at how much credit really costs (including payday loans and personal loans). • The difference between renting a home and buying one (including how mortgages work). • How to compare the cost of different items and services. • How discount codes and coupons work and where to find them. • How to run a monthly budget. • How to plan savings (especially for an item or activity). • How taxes work. • Household bills and a rough idea of their cost. • How investments work. • Why gambling is so risky and why they are unlikely to win (including fruit machines, scratch cards and the like). • How salaries work – how often they are paid and what the average salary is for a full-time worker in the country you live in. • How sales work in stores and why they often aren’t as good as they appear (for instance, how the price of an item might be temporarily raised for a few weeks, so that it can then be cut dramatically for a sale, making the reduction appear more generous than it really is). • How giving to charity and donations work.
So many adults today have a poor understanding of personal finance concepts, and I think this lack of knowledge – among other causes – plays a big part in the levels of personal debt and financial difficulties that many struggle with. We really must not leave our children’s financial instruction to their formal education because it is severely lacking in schools.
I passionately believe that all parents should teach their children to be financially literate and allow them to learn to earn, save, spend, donate and budget money in the safety of the family home from a young age. If we don’t, we are doing our children a huge injustice that may impact them negatively for many years to come.
If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds.
I’m often contacted by parents who are worried how their baby will settle when the mother is breastfeeding and can’t be around at sleep time (when the baby usually only settles to sleep on the breast). The following 5 tips can help:
1. Try to prepare in advance. Every time mum feeds to sleep play the same piece of white noise or alpha music (see mine HERE) and snuggle a lovey up to your baby. Also try a couple of drops of baby safe diluted aromatherapy oil on mum’s neck or collar for over 3mth olds. Hopefully your baby will link this music, scent & comfort object with mum and when they are used by dad/other carer the baby will be comforted by the sensory cues.
2. Don’t fixate on giving a bottle to sleep. Just because baby usually breastfeeds to sleep it doesn’t mean they actually need the milk itself to sleep. Often it is about connection. Giving a bottle before the bedtime or naptime routine and *not* expecting the baby to go to sleep with the feed takes the pressure off. Also, many babies will do better with open top ‘sippy’ style cups that they can lap milk from, than a bottle.
3. Have a nap/bedtime routine. Again, one that is practiced lots before the separation. Dad/carer should try to copy the routine as much as possible, doing the same things in the same order – e.g: bath, then massage, then read a certain story book etc..
4. Don’t be afraid to do your own thing. Contradicting myself on point 3! – don’t be worried if this routine doesn’t work when mum is not around. Instead, get creative and find something that works for you. It could be a car ride, a walk outside with the baby, dancing to music with a strong beat, cuddles skin to skin etc. Often dads/other carers find magic ways to get babies to sleep that mums can never copy!
5. Stay calm and nurturing through any tears and reset expectations. It’s unlikely naptime or bedtime will be as calm and easy as it is for mum and that’s OK. Expect tears. That doesn’t mean dad/carer is doing anything wrong, it just means that they’re not mum. It won’t always be like this. Until things change, it’s all about staying calm, deep breaths and holding and comforting the baby through their tears and upset. It is much better for your baby to cry while being held by a loving caregiver, than crying alone in a crib etc.
The NEWLY UPDATED Gentle Sleep Book – out now! If you would like to understand and learn how to improve your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler’s sleep WITHOUT cry-based conventional sleep training, this is the book for you!
Making up a ‘first period box’ for girls, before they start their periods (known as menarche), helps them to feel prepared and by demystifying products that they may use, the whole experience becomes far less anxious for them. Making up a first period box also allows you to discuss the different selection of sanitary protection (san-pro) available, so that she can make an informed choice about her preferences.
Sanitary options include: Cloth san-pro – These are sanitary towels or tampons made from fabric – usually cotton or bamboo – that are washed (in the washing machine on a regular cycle) and reused after each use. Towels usually have poppers and ‘wings’, so they can be easily fixed in place, and they come in lots of cool patterns and colours. While the initial outlay is more expensive than it would be for disposables, you soon save money. Period pants – These are special knickers that have a moisture-wicking-and-retaining lining, meaning that no other protection is needed. They look remarkably like normal underwear and come in a range of sizes and colours. Like cloth sanpro, the initial outlay is expensive, but you save money in the long run. Sometimes they are used as an added layer of extra protection, like towels or tampons, to prevent ‘leakage’, which can be particularly useful while at school if your tween has an especially heavy or erratic flow (which is common initially). Menstrual cups – Soft cups, usually made from silicone or latex, these are inserted into the vagina and collect menstrual blood. They need to be regularly emptied but can be washed and reinserted. They are usually cheap to buy. Regular sanitary towels – These are the disposable stickon towels that most are familiar with, although you can buy special tween/teen-sized ones. Many of the main companies will send free samples if you request them on their websites, so your tween can find the one they are most comfortable with. Tampons – Again, one of the two most mainstream choices, alongside regular sanitary towels. Here, your tween can choose between a tampon that comes with an applicator (a special tube that can make insertion easier) or a non-applicator type, where the tampon has to be inserted with the fingers. Once again, most of the well known manufacturers offer free samples on their websites.
What Should you put in a First Period Box? Although several companies sell ‘first period’ boxes, I prefer to make my own, not only because it is cheaper, but because you can personalise what I included. Here are some ideas: * A selection of sanitary protection. * Some new comfy knickers (including spares to keep in their bag in case of any leaks). * Some wipes, in case of any accidents and if hand-washing facilities aren’t available when changing protection. * A hot-water bottle or heat pad, in case of discomfort. * Some snuggly socks . . . just because (who doesn’t feel more comfortable in soft socks?). *A couple of bars of favourite chocolate *A fun face mask (of the cosmetic, not Covid type). *Some little motivational quote cards. *A bottle of favourite bubble bath or shower gel. *Some herbal or fruity tea bags, or hot chocolate sachets. *A packet of tissues. *A small gift – e.g: some hair ties or a favourite body spray.
And finally….*A book about puberty if she doesn’t already have one.
When Should You Make a Period Box? It’s a good idea to make a first period box either before, or as soon as you see the first signs of puberty. I would aim to make one by the time your daughter turns 9 years of age, but don’t hold back giving it to her – or explaining the contents – until she starts her period though, the earlier she has it the better. Explain what the items are for and suggest she might want to keep some items in her school bag, just in case her periods begin while she is at school. Most importantly though, this means she will have everything ready, which means that if you are not around at the all important time, you can trust that she doesn’t have to try to find whatever she needs herself. This gives girls an element of control which I think is useful for helping them to prepare for their menarche.
This article was adapted from BETWEEN – If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UK, Australia, USA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world
Children (whatever age!) are never just “naughty”. There is ALWAYS a reason for their behaviour. Naughty is the tip of the iceberg, it is a wholly inadequate word to describe what the child is experiencing and it sets us on the wrong path of discipline.
This is why I always look for the underlying causes of their behaviour, because only then can you help them with their unmet needs and struggles – and it’s only when you investigate the reasons that you can expect to see a genuine, long-lasting, positive change.
Common discipline methods that focus on quick fixes through ignoring, rewarding, praising and punishing are always ineffective because they are naive to the underlying reasons, they gloss over them and focus superficially on creating fear and compliance. They’re like sticking a plaster on an infected wound and hoping it goes away because you can’t see it temporarily, but we all know that what’s happening under the surface gets bigger and deeper. This is why so many who use these techniques struggle so much as their children get older.
What’s the alternative? In my Gentle Discipline Book I talk about asking 3 questions every time you are struggling with a behaviour:
WHY HOW WHAT
Why is my child doing this? (look for the reason), How are they feeling (consider their emotions and empathise with them – leading to a more collaborative and connected solution) and What do I hope to gain from my discipline? (do you want to solve – or just palliate the problem). These questions are the answer to more holistic, mindful, long-term discipline solutions.
Of course, you also need to cope in the moment – what I call Emergency Discipline – this is about keeping people safe and stopping dangerous/harmful behaviours as they happen, but you must remember – this is NOT a complete discipline solution, so the behaviour will keep on happening, however well you handle it in the moment, until you work on the Why, the How and the What.
If this article has piqued your interest in gentle discipline, check out my new discipline book. It is released under the title ‘The Gentle Discipline Book‘ in the UK and under the title ‘Gentle Discipline‘ in the USA and Canada. The book covers common tricky behaviours from babyhood right the way through to the teen years and how to cope with them in a gentle and effective way
The following is an excerpt (the introduction) from my new book BETWEEN – a guide for parents of 8-13 year olds, which is out now!
‘We were still children, for all that we thought we weren’t. We were in that in- between place, the twilight between childish things and grown- up things.’ Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook , Christina Henry
Time passes in the blink of an eye. Surely it was only yesterday when that warm, mewing bundle was placed in your arms, eyes fixing on yours with all the intensity and knowing of an old soul who has lived many times before, yet in a tiny body, so fragile and new. Through sleepless nights and weary days, you came to know each other. Your world and your priorities shifted, and you slowly assumed a new identity that centred upon your child. A child who orbited you like a satellite, with you the safety of a home planet and the constant pull of gravity keeping you tied as one. Their dependence on you sometimes felt so very heavy, so all- consuming, and there were days (and many nights) when you reminisced and wished for your carefree past.
Oh, how appealing were thoughts of being able to sleep without little limbs starfishing next to yours, to visit the bathroom alone or eat in peace. As weeks became months and months rolled into years, the sweet, busy, joyous and sometimes claustrophobia-inducing toddler years, in which a little sticky hand permanently reached for yours, gave way to the early school years. Full of glitter, junk modelling, phonics books and a plea for one more bedtime story. Then bam, before you can take a breath, you catch a glimpse of your child as the teenager they soon will be. A certain way they hold their jaw, peer through their impossibly long eyelashes or throw their head back as they laugh. And all at once, you realise that baby is no more. That child is fast becoming grown. Yet, they are not quite there. Life is now a strange dichotomy of big parenting (my term for raising more mature, physically larger children with more complex problems and emotional needs) and little parenting (raising small children with physically exhausting, yet relatively simple needs). This is the world of the in between. The bridge between two worlds. Not yet a teen, but not completely a child either.
The between years are bittersweet: the loss of early childhood and yet the promise of such a bright and open future; mourning their baby days, while enjoying the thrill of looming independence. These times can be confusing, not only for your child but for you, too. The in- between – or ‘tween’, as many refer to them – years of childhood are a unique period of development often overlooked. Advice abounds from multiple sources for the first five years of parenting, the beginning of childhood, you may say, yet it starts to tail off when children start school. It is true that once they are well settled at school, you often have a smooth ride parenting-wise for a couple of years, with the challenges of toddlerhood well behind you and those of the teen years far in the future. While ages five to seven may lull you into a false sense of security, it soon becomes apparent that around the age of eight, new challenges start to appear, as the outside world increasingly influences children, their behaviour and their relationships with others and themselves. It is often at this point that parents reach out for help and advice as they struggle to understand their children.
A year or two later, as your child’s age reaches double digits, things change again as puberty really starts to kick in, with all the emotional and physical issues that accompany it. And once puberty is well established and the teen years are imminent, the challenges of parenthood change yet again, with a new quest for independence, changing schooling, friendships and peer interactions bringing fresh concerns. The tween years finish at age thirteen, when your child is officially a teenager, and help and advice for parents picks up once again. Despite the age demographic label changing on your child’s thirteenth birthday, however, not much changes emotionally or physically for at least the first couple of teenage years (something we will look at in more detail in Chapter 1). You could argue that there is little difference between an older tween and a teen, aside from the label.
The middle years of childhood tend to be overlooked entirely, with a black hole of information until the teenage years – thirteen plus, the last years of childhood. When I was a parent for the first time, I often wondered if people thought that these in- between years – those between eight and thirteen – were inconsequential and uneventful. Did the lack of age- specific advice mean that nothing much happened in these years? On the contrary – the tween years are some of the busiest developmentally and often the most challenging for many parents. Raising a tween can often leave you feeling like a parenting beginner all over again. The child you knew so well seems to change so rapidly, fluctuating almost daily. This middle period of childhood can be difficult for both parent and child. New behaviours surface giving you the same worry and confusion you felt as a new parent all over again, only without the support that you had during the baby and toddler years. Even though we all went through this transition ourselves, it can be hard to access our memories and even trickier to recall information we may have learned in school biology lessons many years ago. Despite these new challenges and changes, there is so little information available to help you on this journey. This book is aimed specifically at filling this gap – your handbook as you cross the bridge from childhood into adolescence, together with your child. It is the book I wish I had read when I was in your position.
The problem with ‘the youth of today’
Have you ever noticed how our society is mostly kind and accepting towards younger children? So long as the child is small and cute, that is. When children approach adolescence (a term technically used to describe the period from the onset of puberty through to adulthood), acceptance and tolerance wane hugely. It is much harder to find a child cute if they are taller than you, I guess. And I think in many people’s minds, size correlates with cognitive ability and emotional development – the presumption being that if a child is beginning to resemble an adult physically, they should behave like one, too. Unfortunately, this is not the case (something we will explore at length in Chapter 1), and this common misconception can lead adults, particularly those from older generations, to frequently admonish ‘the youth of today’. Tweens and teens are often labelled as lacking respect, particularly for their elders, and as being unruly in their behaviour. But these views usually tell us more about the person holding them than they do about our children. Clearly, they represent some form of memory bias, with adults remembering their own qualities at that age with a more positive slant; and they may also tell us a lot about how these people were themselves parented.
Research has shown that adults who had a strict authoritarian upbringing are far more likely to find fault with today’s tweens and teens. 1 But the youth- of- today phenomenon is not new. Adults have been complaining about tweens and teens for cen – turies, and likely will do for many more to come. As it happens, the youth of today are no worse than their predecessors. In fact, there is evidence to show that adolescents today are considerably better in many ways than those from previous generations: rates of smoking, underage drinking, drug use, 2 antisocial behaviour and teen pregnancies 3 have fallen, while academic achievement, concern for the environment and acceptance of diversity have risen. Today’s youth are, in fact, something to celebrate, rather than lament. How exciting that we are the generation raising them!
Building a strong, secure and open bridge
My aim in writing this book is to provide you with the information you need to help your child traverse the bridge from childhood to adulthood, while being mindful of your own needs, too. Your child still needs you to help them to feel secure and to steer them on their journey. Your input will help to reinforce this bridge and to grow the independence and confidence needed for the future. Importantly, your relationship during this period will help to keep both the entrance and exit of this bridge open, allowing your child to cross back over to you when they most need you. All the backwards and forwards, toing and froing are characteristic of this stage: little parenting, blending with big parenting, dependence meeting independence, holding on and letting go. Your openness and support during these years are key to building the relationship that you will have with your child in the future.
Throughout this book, we will constantly examine your relationship with your child and why it matters so very much, especially in Chapters 2 and 3, where we will discuss common problematic tween behaviours and what tweens really want (and need) to grow into happy and secure teens and adults. The relationship you have with your tween also provides the foundation for their future relationships with others. However, as they grow, they will often encounter difficulties in these new relationships – Chapter 4 looks at friendships in the tween years and what you can do as a parent when they don’t run smoothly. Chapter 5 delves into your tween’s relationship with themselves and how to encourage good mental health, now and in years to come. Finally, on the relationship front, Chapter 6 looks at romantic associations, consent and diversity in sexuality – subjects it’s never too early to discuss with your tween, yet which are often delayed and avoided by so many. Later in the book, we will move on to hot topics surrounding the tween years and issues commonly raised by parents. Chapter 7 considers personal hygiene and how to encourage tweens to understand and take care of their own bodies (including pre – paring for menarche – more commonly known as the onset of periods). Chapter 8 delves deeper into body image and why the tween years are key to helping your child grow into an adult with good body acceptance – one who is more likely to escape the seemingly ever- growing pressures of the diet and cosmetics industries. In Chapter 9, we focus on raising tweens who will advocate for others, and how to cultivate in them an empathy for the world around them and a willingness change the world that they live in for the better (rather than changing them to fit into our cur – rent world). Our tweens are our future, so we should raise them to know that they matter, and that they can make a difference to whatever cause they choose to devote themselves to. No book about tweens would be complete without a chapter on screen time, or ‘how to get your child off their games console’ and Chapter 10 is just that. This generation is growing up online more than any before. We can’t escape the lure of screens and their influence over almost every element of our lives. Raising tweens to be screen savvy – to utilise the amazing possibilities that they present, while avoiding common pitfalls – is so important. Chapter 11 looks at schools – at motivation, homework and academic and other achievements. The transition to secondary (or high) school is a huge milestone in the life of a tween and one worthy of some discussion. Chapter 12 is all about financial literacy, which I believe it is vitally important; yet it’s something that is just not discussed with tweens in our society. Classes about how money and debt work are completely absent from the school curriculum, but may be one of the most valuable life lessons you can give them.
Chapter 13 is the final chapter, which is no coincidence. It feels right to leave you at the age when your child becomes a true teenager – the official end of the tween years. Parting is the theme of this chapter: how to let go and give your child wings to fly (especially when you feel like holding on tight) is something many struggle with. How much independence is too much, or too little? And how do you cope with your own feelings as your child reaches towards looming adulthood. Although this book is about your tween, it is also about you as a parent, and it feels fitting to end with a chapter that concerns you as much as your child. After all, you will always be standing at one end of that bridge, watching with pride as your child continues their journey through the in between, but ready and waiting with open arms should they need to return to you again.
If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then check out BETWEEN – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UK, Australia, USA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world
The following is a short extract from my new book BETWEEN – the ultimate guide to raising children from 8 to 13 years:
1.Check your own Biases
Most of us were raised in a heteronormative world, rife with homophobia and transphobia. Those in the UK who attended school between 1988 and 2003 would have been affected by Margaret Thatcher’s government’s Section 28. This was a clause prohibiting councils and, most importantly, schools from so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, with Thatcher famously saying: ‘Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life.’ This meant that sex education and related support in schools and from social-care services legally had to avoid all LGBTQ+ issues, resulting in widespread bullying and homophobia. The law was abolished in 2000 in Scotland and in 2003 in England and Wales, but those who grew up in the Section 28 era, could be – and were – affected, and it is very possible that you have some conscious or unconscious biases because of it. As with all aspects of parenting, you must confront these beliefs and how they may affect your child and your relationship with them.
2. Don’t Make Any Assumptions or Label Their Feelings
Try not to make any assumptions about your tween, their sexuality or gender identity. Your assumption may be entirely incorrect, and regardless of what you believe, your tween may identify differently, or may not yet fully understand. Tweens can and do experiment with their gender identities and expressions of it, but never indicate to them that it is ‘just a phase’, no matter how positively you try to phrase it. This stage may pass, or it may not. And for those for whom it doesn’t pass, the labelling of their identity as a phase is extremely damaging.
3. Be Open and Encourage Conversation
Let your tween know that you are always happy to talk with them about anything, or just listen, but never pressure them into conversations, or try to encourage them to ‘out’ themselves. Even if you believe that your tween is LGBTQ+, wait for them to broach it with you in their own way and in their own time.
4. Demonstrate Unconditional Acceptance
Make sure your tween knows that you love them unconditionally, no matter who they are, or who they may be attracted to. Your love and support of them will never change. Also, don’t presume that they instinctively know this. Tell them often.
5. Celebrate Differences and Call out Bad Behaviour
Be positive about differences and celebrate all sorts of families and couples. Let them know that you value love and identity in all its glorious differences. Actively search out television programmes, films and books featuring those from the LGBTQ+ community and make it a normal part of your family life to demonstrate acceptance. Call out friends and other family members for homophobia and transphobia and check yourself if you say something that could be offensive. Allowing negative talk from others can lead LGBTQ+ tweens to develop something known as internalised homophobia or transphobia (where they themselves believe it is wrong and hugely struggle with their feelings and identity).
6. Watch Your Language
Don’t talk with your tweens about when they grow up and ‘get a boyfriend’ or ‘get a girlfriend’. This language assumes that they are heterosexual and is part of our heteronormative culture. Instead, use inclusive language – ‘Whoever you may love when you are older’ or, ‘When you get a boyfriend or a girlfriend’. If and when your tween does ‘come out’ to you, don’t stop talking about potential romantic partners. Some parents can feel uncomfortable and so stop mentioning future loves altogether, but this lack of conversation can be keenly felt by LGBTQ+ tweens.
7. Keep Your Concerns to Yourself
Don’t mention any concern you may have for them as a LGBTQ+ tween. You wouldn’t mention concerns if they were heterosexual, so there is no need to mention it if they are LGBTQ+. If you do have worries, remember, they are yours, not those of your tween. Sharing with them will not help them but could hurt them. Similarly, don’t raise concerns that you won’t become a grandparent or similar. Once again, there is no guarantee of grandchildren if your children are heterosexual cisgendered and there are many ways for LGBTQ+ individuals to become parents.
8. Don’t Jump to Conclusions
Don’t presume friends of the opposite sex are always romantic or tease your tween about it. Similarly, if your tween does tell you that they are attracted to those of the same sex, don’t presume they are attracted to all their same-sex friends. If you are straight, you are not automatically attracted to everybody of the opposite sex and you have many platonic friendships; the same is true for those who identify as LGBTQ+.
9. Watch out for Gender Stereotypes
Be mindful of gender stereotypes in your home and family and try to avoid them as much as possible. This could be in what you say, phrases you use, toys you buy and so on. If friends or relatives keep sending highly gender-stereotyped cards or gifts, gently ask them to stop doing so and suggest what they may consider instead.
10. Encourage Autonomy
Allow and encourage your tween to have freedom over their own appearance. For instance, give them as much autonomy as possible with their hairstyle and their clothing, regardless of their sex.
If you have a tween, or soon-to-be tween, and you’d like to learn how to approach puberty, behaviour, education, relationships, screens, sleep, body-care, raising them to be an ally and more – then you may want to check out Between – *the* guide for parents of 8-13 year olds. Available to order now in the: UK, Australia, USA/Canada and Elsewhere in the world
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