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Parenting a pre-teen (children aged 8–12)

Photo: The pre-teen years can be relatively settled.

After the initial adjustment of learning to parent a toddler, and before parenting a teenager brings its own challenges, when you have a child between the ages of 8–12, it can be a relatively settled time. Children may be more likely to be settled-in at school and have their own peer group. They know what they like and what they don’t like – although this can bring its own difficulties!

Some of the main things to focus on during this time are encouraging independence, learning to work with the emotions of a pre-teen, and navigating puberty. These are all subjects that you as a parent might feel apprehensive or cautious about. By taking steps to understand what’s going on for your child at these times, you’ll feel more prepared for them when they happen in your house.

Encouraging independence

Independence gives children some control over aspects of their life, empowering them and boosting their self-esteem. It will help with developing organisation skills and having less reliance on adults.

The long-term benefits include: an easier transition when starting secondary school as they’ll have had more practise with making decisions and having to be responsible for school work, being confident in making choices that will affect them as they get older, such as further education and employment options, and building resilience when things don’t go to plan and they need to think on their feet.

Below are some top tips to help your child develop this skill. But remember, you know your child best and will be able to judge what’s most suitable for them.

Helping with household chores

Ask your child to help you get items on the shopping list from the next aisle in the supermarket or by using the self-checkouts. At home, teach them how to use some household appliances, such as the washing machine, microwave and toaster (under supervision).

Make sure you talk about ‘What happens when…’ so that they know what to do if these activities don’t go to plan.

Getting ready in the morning

Encourage responsibility for being ready for school at the right time, this may include your child remembering to pack their own sports kit, homework, reading book and hearing aid batteries.
Use reminders to encourage this, such as ‘What do you need to remember for school today?’ rather than ‘Don’t forget X today.’ Keep using existing tools, such as visual timetables, as your child may miss out on this kind of incidental learning from older siblings or other children in their class.

You could also put them in charge of getting ready in the morning, having their own vibrating alarm clock could help with this. 

Make it fun

It doesn’t have to be just household tasks or schoolwork, make independence fun for your child too! Perhaps you could plan a family event together, such as a meal or a movie night. Put your child or children in charge of the planning, prepping and hosting.

Developing deaf identity

Remember your child’s deaf identity – this is a part of who your child is, and will develop and change over time, alongside other parts of their identity. Encourage them to continue activities, including in the Deaf community, and with school friends and other organisations.

We have lots more tips for developing a deaf identity.

Cathy is grandma to Maisy (13), who is moderately deaf.

“Maisy’s houseparent and deaf awareness teacher set her goals every term. Recently they were to take care of her own hearing aids and to do a deaf awareness talk by herself at school. The goals are reviewed monthly and achievements are celebrated. This has really helped Maisy to become more confident and independent, particularly with looking after her hearing aids and radio aid at school. There are still times when she’s forgetful and loses them, but it’s much better than it used to be. With the support in place, Maisy is positively encouraged to be independent.”

The pre-teen years

The pre-teen years, or ‘tweens’, are usually defined as the years before your child turns 13, starting around age 9 or 10. During this period, your child will go through emotional, social and physical development. It’s a time of growing independence for children, and while they may start to rely on their friends and peer group more than before, they still need the guidance and support of their parents.

Remember that it will be a new experience for you too, and that you will be learning to make changes with them. Below are some top tips, but, as before, remember, you know your child best and will be able to judge which feels the most appropriate for your relationship.

Validate their feelings

Validate their feelings by acknowledging that how they’re feeling is important. Avoid immediately finding solutions to any problems they share with you, listen to what they say and empathise with them, using phrases like ‘That sounds really stressful, I can see that it has upset you.’

Seek their opinion

Get your child’s input and opinions at their medical appointments – be open around treatment options and any potential side-effects, and respect what they have to say. Our young people’s website the Buzz has lots of information for children and young people beginning to take control of their own medical appointments. 

Again, make sure you seek their opinion when choosing a secondary school for them. You may have different priorities to your child, for example finding a school with the highest standard of education. But maybe your child would rather attend a school that feels safe to them or is the same as where their friends are going, they just might not know how to explain this to you. It’s important to include them in the discussion and listen to what they have to say or what they’re trying to say.
You could read through these webpages together and think about the things that are important to both of you before beginning your search. The National Deaf Children’s Society also runs events specifically on starting secondary school, it might be useful to attend one of these with your child.

Enjoy shared interests

if your child is passionate about a topic, see what you can learn from them! This is also a great age to start a project together, such as completing 10,000 steps a day for a month or learning to identify constellations in the night sky.

Think about your communication

You may need to change your communication approach as your child gets older and moves into a pre-teen age. Your child may want more space and privacy, but don’t take this personally! Working out how much privacy to give them may be difficult at this stage, open communication is as important as ever. You might also want to have a read of our e-safety pages if your child is using the internet on their own. 

Dealing with tempers

If your pre-teen is stroppy with you, it’s likely that they feel safe to display these feelings with you. This can be especially true after school, when they may be suffering from concentration fatigue. Give them time to wind down mentally after school, before asking them about what they did during the day.

Lucy is mum to Emily (9) who has a moderate to severe hearing loss.

“Sometimes Emily wants to take her hearing aids off and not do anything. More often she becomes emotional, frustrated and hates deafness. Let your child have a break from their hearing aids when they choose. This shows them that they are in control, not their deafness.

Tell them it’s okay to be tired and, if they become frustrated, stop whatever you were doing, hug them and ask what makes them feel that way. Let them take out their frustration on bubble wrap or rip up paper with them and soon the frustration may turn into laughter.”

Puberty

This is one of the biggest physical and emotional changes that your child will experience at this stage in their life. Puberty begins between the ages of 9–12, and usually starts earlier for girls than boys.

Be prepared to talk to your child about puberty before they hit this age group – it doesn’t have to be a formal chat though. We have more tips below on what to talk to them about and how to approach it.

You may also be feeling protective about your child growing up at this age, which can be because of your own experiences growing up and your parental instinct to keep your child safe. You may wish to reflect on your own experiences and how you felt at this age – this can help with how you approach the subject with your child.

Puberty and reproduction is taught in England and Wales as part of Upper Key Stage 2 (Year 5) and in Key Stage 3 Biology. In Scotland it’s taught during Stage 2 (Primary 5–7), and in Northern Ireland is part of Key Stage 2. Your child may also have questions to ask you about puberty after learning about it at school.

Know your stuff

Make sure you know what you need to talk to them about – websites, such as Childline, contain information aimed at children but can be useful for parents to familiarise themselves with the physical and emotional changes that happen during puberty too.

The NHS also has useful information which may help to guide the conversation with your child. 

Ease the awkwardness

Let them know that you might be embarrassed too – being open and vulnerable will encourage them to be the same.

Know your signs

Make sure you know the British Sign Language (BSL) signs and words that you need to have the conversation in advance.

Allow questions

Don’t discourage any questions – be as honest as you can and if you don’t know the answer tell them you will find out. Then make sure you get back to them.

Ease the awkwardness

Deaf children have reduced opportunities for incidental learning and can miss relevant conversations amongst their peers where they share their feelings around this topic. By being open about puberty and sexual health and talking about it, your child will then be prepared for any conversations around it at school.

Tina is mum to Charlie (9) who was born with microtia and has moderate hearing loss on the left side.

“When it comes to difficult conversations with Charlie, I’ve always found honesty was the best policy. We might slightly sugar-coat it so that it’s more age appropriate and follow it a confidence boost to remind him that not one person is the same and that he’s special.

I’ve found that sitting in a quiet room away from his siblings helps when it comes to talking about important topics or life changing decisions that he’s a part of. This gives him my full attention and he isn’t distracted by noises around him.”