Are they 12 or 2? Many parents ask themselves that question when their children enter their teens. And it’s no wonder. There are a lot of similarities between what the developmental stage of a toddler and teens, experts are saying. Here’s your guide to what’s going on – and tips on how to navigate the transition.
New boundaries, all over again
In the book Raising Baby Green, Dr. Alan Greene calls the terrible twos the first adolescence. It’s at that time that children begin to distinguish and separate themselves from their parents, getting into mischief around the house, having tantrums, and getting possessive of what they perceive as their things. How many of us have heard a toddler repeat over and over "mine, mine"? Fast-forward 10-plus years, and it’s the same message with more words: "This is my room." "She is my friend."
And as tweens start to push their boundaries as they develop into full-fledged teens, Dr. Greene says, they show other signs of their toddler selves. Instead of throwing a tantrum at the supermarket, they’re slamming their bedroom door and screaming "I hate you!"
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But seeing the similarity between these two stages of your child’s development can give you a leg up in understanding your growing teenager.
The current advice for dealing with terrible twos fit very nicely in dealing with your surly pre-teen, says Royal Oak psychologist Heather S. Kelley. Most of the advice fits into two categories – that of and setting boundaries and giving support.
"No matter what age, kids need boundaries," says Kelley. "They key is that those boundaries have to adapt to the age of your child and their responsibility level."
Being consistent and having set routines are valuable in that, like the 2-year- old, it gives them something clear to push against and is useful in defining who they are. Having no rules or boundaries gives them too much to figure out at either age.
Beware the dictator’s impulse
Consistency and fair rules will help your tween feel secure in the mist of so much change, but be sure to seek their input – as it will give them a sense that you respect their new role in the family and support their developing adult identity. Chores, homework time and privileges can all be negotiated with your teen as they increase their ability and willingness to be responsible, Kelly says.
Giving them limited choices will help them practice adult decisions without adult consequences and it will aid in avoiding dreadful power struggles.
Just like you supported their first words and steps, encourage now their efforts to step out in the world – a first job, taking a difficult class, a romantic relationship, or trying out for a sport.
"This is the time for kids to test their ‘adult legs,’" says Kelley. "If they don’t do it now, they won’t be ready when adulthood is no longer a test."
Compassion is key
These situations can be filled with anxiety, so do not make light of their attempts, but rather help your teen feel proud for trying. Share stories of your own adolescence to help them realize they are not alone in this sometimes awkward and confusing time. You can also assure them it can be an exciting time in their life, as well.
"Being a teen is a tough time for kids and their parents," says Kelley. "But it will pass. You will get through it – just like you got through the terrible twos."