Preadolescence does not have to lead to universal chaos

Q: Our family is about to engage in preadolescence and pick up on whatever all of that involves.

Our oldest daughter turns 11 a week from tomorrow. So far, all has been well within the family, but from what I have heard, including what I have read and studied when I was a student at university, we can expect a few moments of tension just about any day now.

I think that it includes defiance, rudeness, disobedience, and disrespect.

I would like to deal with these problems before they cloud over the aura of loving and caring that otherwise says who we are as a family.

We are looking for any suggestions on which we can pick up that might help us see our way through the next few years.

A: While it is sometimes true that kids in preadolescence, ages 10 to 14, struggle with all that being a preteen means, it is not necessarily true that this moment in life must precipitate the start of universal chaos.

Many families see their way through preadolescence with few, if any, disruptions.

What is true is that all kids go through more physical, emotional and mental changes during those three or four years of preadolescence than they will at any other time in their lives. Anything that their families can do to help them is a bonus for everyone, moms, dads, and the rest of the kids.

The whole thing starts with a clearly defined and well understood structure from which your children get some sense of the expectations and direction you have set to help them offset those impulses that often have turned their good intentions into questionable behaviour.

The structure is built on the limits of what you expect from your daughter, including reasonable curfews that let her know when it is too late and she is expected to come home, regular bedtimes that quiet down the house and leave all of you with a chance for a pleasant evening, and restraints on destructive behaviour, that which might break your favorite vase or really hurt someone else in your family. It is even better when you can eliminate screaming and shouting and a fall back to profanity.

Let’s be clear. I am talking about setting limits in whatever way that you can to help your daughter restrain herself.

I am not talking about nagging. Nothing will displace preadolescence more so than will nagging. If you catch yourself nagging your daughter, back off and reconsider whatever it is that you are trying to tell her.

A number of studies released 10 or more years ago looked at the plusses of physical exercise. The results have suggested that those preadolescent kids who were not doing well in the classroom rebounded when they were scheduled to run a treadmill for 20 to 30 minutes at the start of each day. We can extrapolate that to the family home and suggest that if you can get your daughter to start the day with routine exercises she might handle some of the challenges of preadolescence more reasonably.

She does not need to body build, or prep herself for the track team. She just needs to get her body systems going before she leaves the house to engage the rest of the day. Over time you will see her improve her physical agility, her mental dexterity and her emotional regulation. It is a huge plus.

Finally, don’t forget to spend time just listening to your daughter. She is probably reasonably smart. She may not need all of that advice that you are dying to pass on to her. It usually does not help. But all kids need to know that they are significant and important and the more that you listen to your daughter, the more you convince her that her relevance is unparalleled.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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