I see a lot of similarities between tweens and toddlers. This weekend I experienced their need for autonomy and responsibility.
My daughter, Lucy, is a textbook toddler at age 3. Her need for autonomy and responsibility can be met by letting her get herself ready to go in the morning. She likes to pick out her own clothes and put them on herself. Often they mismatch, and occasionally are on backwards.
She also likes to brush her hair herself. She does a pretty good job with the front, but doesn't get the back at all. So we usually head out the door with the back of her hair in tangles. She also likes to put on her own shoes, and they are rarely on the correct feet.
In her toddler wisdom she knows that a striped shirt matches striped pants, despite their color or alignment, and that shoes feel better on the wrong feet. If her dad or sisters or I try to intercede to get her to change her clothes or let one of us brush her hair (unless we are really sneaky about it), it usually ends up in a temper tantrum. But, as parents, we are prepared for this. We know the three-year-old psyche is trying to become independent and that she needs responsibility. It's healthy. So, we let her parade around looking a little off beat - and actually feel a little proud of it ourselves.
My daughter, Sam, is a tween.
Amazingly, it is almost like she is a toddler. She also wants to do things for herself and her own way, but I often lapse in remembering this. There aren't as many books on tweens as there are on toddlers. So, I inadvertently spent most of Saturday bossing her around, telling her what and how to do things, often criticizing the way she was doing them. And finally on Saturday night, there came the tantrum.
A tween tantrum isn't as instantaneous as a toddler tantrum, and unless we spend time reflecting on what could have caused it, it is hard to pinpoint the problem. Tweens can't even tell you the problem most of the time themselves. They also crave independence and responsibility like their toddler counterparts, just not something as simple as picking out their own clothes and doing their own hair.
So what can we let tweens do to satisfy their need to become independent? It's tough when they are just at that in between age where they are too old for some things and too young for many others. So finding something can be a challenge.
Sunday worked out much better for Sam. First, she took her 9-year-old sister, Cate, out for a bike ride, just the two of them. They did a little shopping, went to the park, and even stopped at a café for a snack. Sam came back excited and refreshed, and Cate reported they got along the entire time. They even got a little lost on their way out. Then she planned and prepared dinner for the family. She's been doing this on occasion. She picks the menu, I shop, and then she cooks and serves. She's learned quite a bit in the kitchen and feels proud of her accomplishments. Plus she doesn't complain at dinner. And at bedtime on Sunday night, instead of a tantrum, we were met with hugs and kisses from a satisfied tween.
The next time I am having trouble with my tween, I just have to remember how similar she can be to a toddler and look for a solution there.