The teen years can be tumultuous times, and preteens are poised on the brink of entering one of the most delicate times in their lives. However, parents and guardians of preteens can help to smooth the transition by teaching them important life skills before they go through puberty.
Don't stress if you haven't covered all of these things with your kiddo yet. You've got time. This is all about preparing kids to handle the increased responsibility and pressure of the teen years, and it's never too late to start. These parenting tips for preteens will help.
What age is a kid actually considered a preteen? Technically, when we're talking about the preteen years, we're talking about kids aged nine to 12.
1. Use Effective People Skills
People skills are an important part of communication. While some kids come by them naturally, others need a helping hand to learn to move through life and communicate with grace. Moving into middle school, high school, and beyond, teens need to know how to talk to others to communicate their needs, indicate their understanding, ask relevant questions, and express themselves appropriately.
With a good foundation in communication, teens will be better equipped to:
- Advocate for themselves
- Ask for help or advice when they need it
- Ask for clarifications when they don't understand instructions for assignments or jobs
- Navigate the world politely
- Form better relationships
Essential People Skills
Interpersonal skills range from making eye contact when you talk to responding politely in conversation. Among the most important are:
- Reading and communicating with body language
- Making eye contact
- Listening and showing they are listening
- Being assertive
- Communicating verbally
- Working with others to problem solve
- Engaging politely
Teaching People Skills
The first and most important element in teaching your preteens good people skills is to demonstrate them yourself. Kids learn by example, and your example is the one they are the most likely to look to. It's more important now than ever that you demonstrate good people skills so your children will follow your lead. You can also make your children's life a learning-rich environment, giving them plenty of opportunities to learn and practice important social skills.
- Expose them to diversity. Give your kids plenty of opportunities to interact with all different kinds of people and groups that include a mix of adults, teens, and children. Churches, community groups, family centers, musical or performance groups and similar activities all provide opportunities for your children to interact with others in a safe environment.
- Try sports if your kids are interested. Youth sports will teach them how to be teammates, to listen to coaches and mentors, and how to engage with sportsmanship. To find recreational youth sports in your area, use a locator like Upward, which allows you to search youth sports in your region.
- Play family games frequently. Interacting in family board games can teach all sorts of social skills, such as conflict management, problem-solving, and others. For preteens, consider Awkward Moment Card Game, a game that offers plenty of awkward social situations in a fun and safe environment.
- Eat dinner together. During dinner, emphasize table manners and back-and-forth discussion. Eat dinner with guests and other families, and dine in various situations, such as out at a restaurant or at a friend's house.
It never hurts to state your expectations clearly. Before heading out to dinner or joining an activity, outline expected social skills and then model them yourself. Talk about it afterwards too to help with any questions kids might have.
2. Feed Themselves
Grade school children can easily make simple breakfasts and pack a nutritious lunch, and older children can plan and prepare simple family meals. Learning to prepare food not only has health benefits that last a lifetime, but it's a life skill they will need. If your child can prepare simple foods, they may be less likely to turn to packaged convenience foods - especially if you don't keep them around the house.
Planning and preparing meals requires multiple skills including:
- Understanding which foods are nutritious and why you need to eat nutritious foods
- Assessing available ingredients to determine what to prepare - or making a shopping list of necessary ingredients
- Reading and following a recipe
- Measuring ingredients
- Safely using kitchen equipment to prepare foods
Getting Started With Meal Prep and Food Choices
Starting as young as possible, teach your kids basic nutritional information. Nutrition.gov offers an array of resources for teaching your preteens about making nutritious food choices. In addition:
- Model healthy eating. Talk about the decisions you're making about your own food choices and why you're choosing what you are.
- Educate yourself. Try a book like Get Your Family Eating Right, which shows you how to teach your kids to establish healthy eating habits.
- Give kids educational resources. Purchase a cookbook geared toward kids and tweens, such as The Young Chef by the Culinary Institute of America, which offers recipes and teaches essential cooking techniques. Use tools like the Partnership for Food Safety Education's Kids Games and Activities, which teach basic food safety in a fun format.
- Get kids involved in lunch. Teach your children how to prepare a nutritious lunch and have them pack their school lunches each day. 100 Days of Real Food offers a section of school lunches that are nutritious and easy to prepare. Browse the section with your kids to plan their lunches for the week and have them make a shopping list.
- Teach real meal planning. Work with your kids to plan a family meal. Tweens are old enough to be responsible for and plan a family meal at least once per month. For help, try these free downloadable lesson plans for meal planning.
3. Delay Gratification
In a society filled with instant gratification, there is value in learning to be patient. You've probably heard of that famous study conducted in the 70s with kids and marshmallows that showed that children who were better able to delay gratification than their peers had better performance in school and had fewer behavioral issues. Later in life, those same children had higher SAT scores and were more likely to graduate college and earn a higher income.
When you are teaching delayed gratification, what your child is actually learning is impulse control. Tweens with better self-control are also less likely to engage in socially or personally destructive behaviors, as well, such as bullying or cheating on a test.
Essential Skills for Impulse Control
We could all use a little more impulse control, and there are actually lots of skills involved in delaying gratification:
- Doing chores or homework before screen time
- Saving money to buy something
- Taking turns in games
- Waiting for others to finish talking instead of interrupting
As with all the other life skills, your example is of utmost importance. If your children see you exhibiting self-control, they are more likely to follow suit. As kids get older, they need to have more opportunities to control themselves with less parental involvement.
- Set expectations with your tweens. Work with them to determine the appropriate behaviors you will expect from them and then help them find strategies to meet those expectations.
- Reinforce positive behaviors. When you catch your kiddo doing something right, reward them with extra privileges or more trust.
- Encourage good time management. Time is a finite resource, and kids need to know how to conserve it. Set a chore schedule and free time goals and talk about how kids can achieve those.
- Practice taking turns. You probably already worked on this when your kiddo was a pre-schooler, but turn-taking matters a ton for older kids too. Give them opportunities to take turns in conversations and games so they can practice waiting.
If you enforce consequences, use logical or natural consequences that arise naturally as a result of the behavior, and be sure the teen understands the consequences resulted from their choices. The Parenting with Love and Logic Parenting Package for ages 7-12 is an excellent resource.
4. How to Do Laundry
Tweens who can't perform basic laundry tasks grow up to be college students who bring home huge hampers of dirty clothes on their breaks (or those kids who didn't sort by color and had all pink shirts and underwear). Nobody wants that.
Fortunately, with laundry, you can start kids at a young age by having them help you sort. Then, as they get older, you can teach them to fold, and finally, you can show them how to work the washer and dryer and manage stains and laundry detergent.
5. Manage a Small Budget
As your children become tweens and have the ability to earn a little money, teaching them to manage it is important. Bank of America suggests the following:
- Sit down with your child and determine how much money she will expect to earn monthly.
- Outline the items you expect your child to pay for (such as movies, soda, video games, etc.).
- Set spending restrictions - that is, things you will not allow your child to purchase even though it's his money.
Then, enter income and expected expenses in a free budgeting worksheet. Require your child to track his expenses and encourage him to set aside a small amount of money to save for big-ticket items or other expenses.
6. Stay Safe at Home When Alone
Some parents are comfortable leaving children as young as 8 home alone for a short period, while others prefer to wait until their children are a bit older. However, by the time they hit their tween years, most parents are comfortable leaving kids home alone at least for a few hours.
It's a big deal staying alone, and you can teach kids as young as 8 what you expect of them when they are on their own, as well as teaching basic safety rules and procedures.
Before allowing your child to stay home alone, assess their readiness. Do they respond well to unexpected situations? Can they stay out of trouble when you're not directly supervising them?
Teach basic safety as soon as you suspect you will begin leaving your preteen home alone.
- Outline your expectations and go over safety rules. Set rules for things like use of the stove, answering a phone or door, checking in with parents and others.
- Sit down with your child and establish a list of emergency contacts.
- Come up with a safety checklist for kids who will be staying home alone and expect your child to use it anytime they are staying home without an adult.
- Continue to reassess the situation and discuss with your child how things went, issues, and how he could have handled any issues that arose differently.
7. Stand up for Themselves
As children get older, peer pressure increases. While parents tend to worry most about peer pressure with teens, teaching your children to hold their ground with peers in their grade school and preteen years can lay the foundation for withstanding tougher challenges as your kids get older.
Creating a strong foundation of values is the first step in helping your kids stand up for themselves when it comes to peer pressure, and this is something parents need to do from an early age. As your kids approach their teen years, you can also:
- Discuss your child's day. Ask about their challenges and how they felt about how they handled them, and offer suggestions to help them handle difficult situations. It's important to keep the lines of communication open.
- Help your child define their values. Talk about who they are and what is important to them. This can be very grounding when they are presented with situations that require them to stand up.
- Role play. If you're concerned about your kid handling the social interaction of standing up to a bully or resisting peer pressure, practice by role playing. You take the role of the other kid, and they can respond.
8. Win and Lose Gracefully
There are a lot of adults who need to learn this skill, as well, but if you teach it to preteens, they'll be ahead of the curve. Learning how to win and lose gracefully is a social skill that will last a lifetime, help your child have better relationships, and prepare them for the sometimes hard-knock existence of adulting.
Even very young children need to learn they can't win all the time, and by the time they are preteens, this lesson needs to be set in stone. After all, nobody likes a sore loser, and the older the gloating winner or angry loser is, the less attractive it is.
For competitive preteens, this can be especially hard, particularly if your child is one who hasn't had the opportunity to lose very much or if your child has always participated in the "everybody gets a trophy" activities. Unfortunately, the older kids get, the more competitive the world gets, and it's essential they learn to navigate competition in a graceful manner.
- Set a good example. Show good sportsmanship yourself, whether in family games or as a sideline parent watching your child's sporting events.
- Give tips. Encourage your preteen to congratulate winners and tell losers that they played a good game or some other compliment.
- Focus on feelings. Instead of focusing on performance and what you thought of it, ask your child how he felt he did. Encourage your child to evaluate both the high and low points of his performance with minimal judgment. Emphasize doing their best as opposed to winning or losing.
9. Be Confident
Kids are often filled with self-doubt, and confidence is a necessary trait as they navigate the teen years and beyond. Fortunately, the way you parent has a lot to do with how confident your child is.
It's not always easy, but try to set aside any helicopter parenting tendencies you might have and instead, take on a coaching role in your child's life to help him build confidence. This means allowing your child to do things for himself as you stand to the side and serve as a resource. Give your child opportunities to be successful through a series of age-appropriate responsibilities and activities, serving as a support system as needed.
The US Department of Education offers a variety of resources for helping adolescents build confidence. It's worth a look if you want to try some specific activities to help your kiddo feel more sure of themselves.
10. Help Them Manage Their Time
Today's preteens are busy! With sports, homework, family obligations, and other after-school or community activities, preteens are busy and can expect to get busier. So managing their time is essential.
- Don't manage for them. Instead, help your preteen to find ways to manage his time with your input as required.
- Give them tools. Work with your child to help them stay on task and help them find a time management system that works for them. There are various types of planners with different focuses, so kids who plan or learn differently can find their best option.
- Remember the importance of downtime. Don't forget to encourage your tween to plan some downtime where they can engage in leisure time activities as well.
The Well-Equipped Preteen
There's more to learning as a preteen than math and reading. Encouraging your child to develop essential skills and practices will help her as she enters middle school and serve her well into adulthood.