The holidays mean family time, shopping, decorating, parties, and dinners. That’s great news for you, but your preteen, who suddenly can’t stand to be seen with you, may be in for a few rough weeks.
Whats behind the embarrassment? It’s caused by a developmental phase called individuation, in which a preteen separates from her parents to become her own person. During this phase, kids may become self-absorbed and highly sensitive. A parent who waves too eagerly at a holiday concert, or is too free with public affection, is a potential embarrassment.
Surviving the Next Stage
For children who were adopted, the tween years–and the process of individuation–can be even harder. Adoption may make them feel different, and, at this stage, they want nothing more than to fit in with their peers. As they strive to form their own identity, they may struggle with new feelings about their adoptive parents–as well as their birth parents.
- How can you help your child through this normal transition?
- Know that your preteen still needs affection. She may cringe if you hug and kiss her in public (but may relish affection at home), so be discreet about when and where you show her your love.
- Try to be understanding, and don’t take rejection personally. Many kids will be confused by how they feel, and will direct that confusion toward those they love most. As a parent, you’re perceived as being safe and secure.
- Be sensitive without being permissive. Preteens often become secretive about what’s going on in their lives, and spend much more time alone in their rooms talking with friends on the phone or computer. Be tolerant of these behaviors, but not so permissive that you don’t know what’s happening.
- Keep a sense of humor and know that this phase will pass. Take comfort in the fact that your child is maturing into a healthy, independent adult–it just may take some time to get there!
You can’t prepare for every insensitive remark, but here are scenarios you might come up against at holiday gatherings–and ways to deal with them.
Your preteen is upset because she looks different from family members.
Ask your child to think about her best friend. How important to the friendship is that person’s physical appearance? Reassure her that her family loves and enjoys her just the way she is–and that seeing her is one of the things they look forward to at the holidays.
A relative makes cultural assumptions–such as asking your son about soccer because he was adopted from South America.
Explain to your child that the relative wants to talk with him, but doesn’t know enough about him to begin. Teach your child to deflect the comments politely: “No, Uncle Ted. I don’t play soccer, but I do enjoy my new drum set. What were you interested in at my age?” The two of them may find things to talk about.
Your child overhears a relative asking when you’ll have children of your own.
Assure your child that parenting her has been the most rewarding experience of your life–and that she is very much your own. Tell your child that you’ve spoken to this relative to clear up his misconceptions–and, as a result, you don’t think he’ll be making such comments again.