5 Tips For Safely Surviving the Preteen Years


How would you like to work in a position that requires no prior training, and in fact, offers no training at all?  What if the people you worked with were awesome, and loving, but were constantly morphing and changeable?  In fact, in this profession, you might not know from day to day, sometimes moment to moment, whether you’ll be working with sunshine and roses, or a Sith lord straight from the dark side.  Sound exciting?  Interesting?  Challenging?

It is.  Welcome to motherhood!

One of the beautiful things about humanity is the full spectrum of emotions we are capable of experiencing.  It is also one of the most difficult aspects of parenting.  We bring our sweet bundles home and revel in their softness.  Melted and malleable to the wide-eyed innocence we hold near our hearts, we are unprepared for the other reality.  We’re brought to our knees by the darker side of our wee ones.  The screaming neediness that deprives us of sleep to the point where our gritty eyes feel like they’re bleeding and all sound reason has fled the building, reduces us to ashes of our former vibrant selves.

Our delightful toddler who showers us with sticky kisses and ‘I wuv you, Mommy’ sweetness can, without warning, become a snarling rage beast, striking and spitting, faster than your eye can twitch.  Our preteen children, seemingly rational and almost mature one moment, become ticking bombs of pubescent emotion, erupting with volcanic force, the next.

Positive and negative.  Dark and light.  There is no more bipolar creature than a child.  Indeed, each phase of a child’s life carries it’s own particular emotional challenges, none more so than the preteen years.  Teenagers get the bad rep, but it starts in the preteen years, that lost phase, the nebulous region of time and space between blissful childhood and full-fledged adulthood.  This is the time to have a plan, to seize the tail of the raving, capricious monster of hormonal emotionalism and bring it to heel.

Your own sanity depends on it.

My husband and I have survived the preteen years of two of our children and, as I write this, are smack in the center of the storm with our other two.  We have identified five tactical strategies that, thus far, have served us well in traversing this treacherous stretch of the parenting path.

1.) Don’t take it personally.  Your child is a bubbling cauldron of emotions and hormones.  Add to that a heaping dose of pride as they have amassed just enough knowledge to think they are wiser than they are.  Simmer in a base of inexperience and you have a volatile recipe indeed.  Remember they are floundering, caught between the carefree naivete of the child, and the calm maturity of the adult.  It is not their intention to make you crazy.  Really.

They need us to be a stable influence, to be the adult.  It’s our job to guide them to the One who can help them withstand the fiery barbs life will throw at them, our rock, Jesus Christ.  We can’t very well lead them to the Prince of Peace if we allow our own emotions to be tossed by the wind and the waves, now can we?

2.) Identify the source of conflict.  Relational conflict usually arises from a break down of, or glitch in, our communication.  Understand your child’s unique love language and personality type.  Try to see through their lens.  What is it that triggers their outbursts or mood swings?

My tendency in instruction is to reason with my children.  I will continue to talk until I am satisfied they understand, and can buy into, the logic of what I am saying.  My son, however, needed fewer words that he could process and digest in his own timing.  My many words triggered a negative response; he perceived them as lecturing.  He felt I was treating him as a dimwit.

My daughter and I have clashed on several occasions due to our very divergent temperaments.  She is very expressive, emotions close to the surface, ever ready to erupt at the slightest provocation.  I am more like a Vulcan, emotionally controlled, easily hardened to those who seem ‘enslaved’ to their feelings.

Understanding these differences in perspective enables us to identify where we clash so that resolution can take place.

3.) Develop a strategy in moments of non-conflict.  The ability to logically construct a healthy plan is not found in the thick of battle, when emotions are ruling the day.  Wait for a time when you and your child are rested and work together to create an arrangement that suits the needs of both you and your child.  Give them permission to speak freely, even if it hurts your feelings.  Listen more than you talk.

My son, in telling me how my many words made him feel, gave me a glimpse into how the conflict could be resolved.  We agreed that, when my words were making him feel lectured to, he could respectfully say, “Mom, I got it.”  That was my cue to stop speaking and let him go assimilate our conversation.  I, on the other hand, reserved the right to say, “I hear you, but let me finish making this point.  I think it’s important.”

My daughter and I also have a strategy.  When her emotions overwhelm her, she is allowed to run off to her room to deal with them however she needs to.  She simply says, “I need a moment, Mom.”  That’s our code for: she needs to handle her emotions privately and is not dissolving into drama-queen mode.  Now, rather than get annoyed at her emotionalism, I am more compassionate towards her.  I see that being dragged around by unpredictable, hormonal feelings is no walk in the park for her.

girl sunlight

Let your kids be an active part of the solution.  Ask for their suggestions in developing your plan.  You might be surprised by their creativity, and you are giving them a real life opportunity to flex their problem solving skills.

4.) Model respect and demand it in return.  Deep within the human psyche is a need to feel accepted and respected.  We all want to be loved as we are, yes?  Remember that your preteen child is a person, separate from yourself.  Respect their feelings.  Validate their ability to contribute to your relationship.

Insist that they show respect to you and to others.  This can never be overstated.  If this is a problem, work out with them a fitting consequence for being disrespectful.  Make sure they understand clearly what specifically constitutes disrespect.  Allow them to hold you to the same standards.

5.) Pray.  Ask for wisdom.  “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5, HCSB) Our God is gracious and generous, not expecting perfection in our parenting.  He wants us to tap into the gifts he has given us.  The power of the Holy Spirit, the teachings of scripture, supernatural wisdom, peace, patience, and love; all of these good gifts are already ours for the taking.  Isn’t that awesome?

Remember that this is an age when our children naturally begin to pull back from mama, when they desire to test the waters of independence.  This is a good thing.  We don’t want them living in our basements at 30 years old, unemployed, their only social interaction being with spawnfire666 and 2hot4you in their online gaming world, right?

Getting locked into a war of the wills with our children is a lose-lose battle for everyone.  Our goal is not to lay down the law and enforce mindless compliance.  Rather, our end game is to train up young men and women who love Jesus, respect others, and know how to solve their own relational problems.  The far reaching impact this will have in their jobs, their marriages, and their churches will be a beautiful legacy of your time as Mom.  It’s not always easy or intuitive.  It takes effort and willingness to bend on our parts, but the effort is so worth it!

Lord, thank you for the privilege of raising up these marvelous young people. Shower me with your gifts of wisdom, peace, patience, love and fill me daily with the power of your Holy Spirit. Let our relationships be so seasoned with grace and joy, the world will look on and know that we are different. And that our difference would be a sweet fragrance that makes them desire You. Be glorified. Amen.


**Stay tuned for Part 2: Identifying the Root of Conflict.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  What tips do you have for navigating this turbulent time in childhood?  What questions does this raise for those of you in the thick of it?  Leave a comment, and we’ll learn together!  Grace and peace to you.  ❤

2 thoughts on “5 Tips For Safely Surviving the Preteen Years

  1. Wow! Wonderful wisdom here, Rebeca. Any parent of a pre-teen who embraces your suggestions will be delighted by the results, I’m sure! And you are so right. The key is to keep the over-arching goal in mind: raising up young people who love Jesus, respect others, and know how to solve relational problems. That IS a huge legacy!


    • Thank you, Nancy. I have to remind myself to keep the big picture in focus and not get derailed by the small stuff. When I stay mindful of that end game, life flows a lot smoother with 2 teens and 2 preteens in my home! I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. Blessings to you today, friend. 🙂


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