Life changes can cause difficulties in preadolescence

Q: We are no longer sure what to do with our daughter. Until recently, she has always been a great kid. But that is not always so now.

This past couple of years, both in Grades 7 and 8, she has been moody, temperamental, not as co-operative as she once was and not nearly as much fun to have around the house.

Things are so bad at school that she nearly dropped off the honour roll and picked up a somewhat nasty comment about her attitude from one of her teachers on this year’s final report card.

We are trying to be patient, we are trying to be tolerant and we are doing what we can to please her but nothing seems to be working. She is still cantankerous.

A: Let’s start by trying to understand what might be happening to your daughter. She is between the ages of 10 and 14. Call it preadolescence, early adolescence, latency or whatever you might want to call it — all of it comes down to the same thing. This is a difficult time for many kids. The problem is that kids in general go through more life changes between the ages of 10 and 14 than they will at any other time in their lives. Look at all that is happening to your daughter.

  • Her body: your daughter is probably going through various growth spurts, at times leaving her awkward and clumsy and having to learn where her new sense of her body balance is. She is no longer sure of herself. That can be hard.
  • Her periods: if your daughter has not yet started having periods, she soon will and that obviously leads to major changes in how she will treat her body.
  • Sexuality: kids this age often start to experience heightened senses of their own sexuality and that can be confusing.
  • Neurological developments: adolescent brains grow but with different speeds for different parts. Often that part of the brain ruling emotion outpaces that part of the brain given to logical analysis, leaving many children vulnerable to emotional outbursts.
  • Academic expectations: schools start to treat young people differently as they progress through early adolescence. Teachers start expecting their students to take on more responsibilities for their own learning, relying less on spoon feeding from teachers, and even though that is at face value a good move for young people, it also confuses them. They are not sure what to expect from their teacher-student relationships.
  • At home: you probably expect more from your daughter around the house than you used to and while you raise your expectations, so do her friends. They expect her to spend more time with them. She may be caught between expectations from you and her social situation.

Add all of this up and you get a huge amount of change. It is no wonder that some kids ages 10 to 14 get a little under the weather, even cranky, as they plow their way through their developmental milestones.

Your job is to be less of a buddy with your daughter and more of a good parent. You can help her best by having a simple but firm structure — regular meals with bed times, regular curfew times during the weekend, regular study times during the week and zero tolerance for any kind of abuse.

It is only for a couple of years but if you can help solidify her life for the next short while, those later transitions into full adolescence and finally into the mature young adult leaving home will be a lot more enjoyable for all of you.

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