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Expert advice on talking to tweens

Posted at 8:53 AM, Mar 09, 2023

The middle and junior high school years can be tough. So how do you help your kids going through it?

Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital Community Health Manager Jessica Strong says, “There's so much change happening intellectually, academically, emotionally, physically, that it's really a difficult time in life, because there's so many transitions.”

Mental health professionals are noticing tweens are having a harder time, a recent Washington Post article from a psychologist saying, "…the percentage of 12- to 17-year-old girls who experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year rose from 12 percent to 25 percent between 2010 and 2020."

And this from the University of Pennsylvania... "Mental illness is preventable. However, in most cases, parents don't bring the child in until after issues have been going on for months and months because they are in denial."

It's all made harder because tweens crave independence and often resist help.

“It's really normal at this age for kids to start pulling away from their parents for their peers to become more important. But that doesn't mean they don't need their parents still,” said Strong.

So how do you fill that need?

“This program is really designed for all parents to talk to all kids about the emotions that they're experiencing, and how they can manage them,” said Strong.

You can find the program she's talking about at talktotweens.com. Once there, you'll see tools that might sound simplistic..but try them yourself.

“We actually have a really great tool called the Feelings Wheel that helps identify emotions,” said Strong. “When our kids are really little, we talk about happy, mad, sad, but as they grow, they need to expand their emotional vocabulary.”

Say you feel angry…but get more specific. Are you mad or threatened, jealous or offended, embarrassed, frustrated or stressed? Or a combination of several of these emotions?

“If you don't know what you're feeling, it's hard to figure out what to do with that feeling,” said Strong.

If you're not the tween whisperer...you might find the Talk to Tweens Safety Card a helpful prompt to have around. It offers an easy framework you can use to build an important bond, help your tween identify with their emotions in part by being open about yours.

It's also important to accept your child's feelings. You can't learn what's happening if you aren't patient enough to really listen.

“You may not agree with their experience, you may think it's different, you may respond differently, but helping them know. Yeah, you know, I can see that you're upset, and I can see why you might be feeling that way. Being there to help teach them is really important,” said Strong. When your tween has experienced your sincere attention and acceptance, offer your validation, acknowledging their experience, and helping them think through what's next.

Along with emotional health, that safety card also has ideas to help your child develop social health, including forming connections, building skills for in-person interactions, and tips on how to have a conversation that doesn’t devolve into dreaded one-word answers so common as children become adolescents.