Parenting a tween? Here’s how to help their confidence thrive

Bella Heim

Bella Heim

Bella is a mummy of three, writer, and photographer. She's not afraid to admit that she relies on a little red wine to keep the chaos of motherhood at bay. When she's not dodging toys and dirty diapers, you'll find her documenting the wild and wonderful ride of parenthood, and adding a splash of inspiration, creativity, and a healthy dose of mum humour along the way.
Updated on Jan 31, 2024 · 9 mins read
Parenting a tween? Here’s how to help their confidence thrive

You would think your sweet child’s mood swings and irrationalities are well behind you since they were no longer toddlers (where have all the years gone?). Doesn’t it seem like forever ago when they were throwing irrational tantrums all day? And then one day, all of a sudden, you find yourself asking: “Where did my sweet little baby go?”.

Well, parents, welcome to the world of tweens! This is exactly what I am going through and I know just how difficult some days are. It hurts a little when my daughter rolls her eyes at me and it hurts even more when she tells me that she hates me because I am annoying (even though I know she doesn’t mean it). In fact, it hurts a lot. It seems like it was just yesterday when she was just this sweet little girl who wanted to be just like mummy. But now, it seems I am a nagging mama who is soooo annoying, and she wants to have her own rules.

Before I dive deeper, what exactly are tweens? They are your unique breed of 8-12-year-olds who are going through some major changes both physically, emotionally, and mentally. Their brains are changing so fast that it’s hard for any parent to catch up. In other words, they are those loveable creatures who are stuck between being a kid and a teenager. They are starting to develop their own personalities and identities, yet still very confused about where they belong. Think of them as playing with a choose-your-own-adventure book, but with fewer plot twists and more emerging hormones.

Don’t get me wrong though, tweens are still great kids! They can make your blood boil a bit from time to time, but trust me, they are not all bad news. Tweens are also curious and interested in exploring new things and are starting to develop their interests and hobbies. They may look a little bigger, but they are still very curious, imaginative and full of energy and enthusiasm. Although they are a bit stuck in the process of discovering their own passions, interests, and strengths, they are still eager to explore and learn new things. I love that kids this age have an even more unique ability to see the world in an exciting way, and you guessed it – they are not afraid to question the status quo or try something new (or question us why we have so many rules – All. The Time).

So how can we help these lovely little humans handle straddling two worlds, and boost their self-esteem and confidence?

Help them feel good about their changing skin & bodies

Ok, hormones, here we come! We’re talking about their changing bodies, like hair sprouting up in places they never knew existed, limbs growing at a rate that puts the Hulk to shame, and skin going through all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. It’s probably shocking and uncomfortable for them – I mean, you remember what that was like, right?

Changing hormones also mean they are going to experience some skin changes such as acne, oiliness, and sensitivity. You can help them by starting a simple skincare routine that can assist them to manage these changes – for example, washing their face twice a day with a gentle cleanser, and moisturising daily with a lightweight moisturiser. If you see acne popping up, using spot treatments containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can help target acne breakouts. And please don’t forget the sunscreen!

Make plans together to eat healthy and exercise, which will not only help them feel good physically but also give them a sense of accomplishment. And don’t forget about clothes! Let them choose (even when you don’t agree with their style. I am guilty of this!) what they want to wear and feel best in will help them feel more confident in their own skin.

Let them know that their emotions are valid

Holy moly, they can really go from laughing to crying in about 0.5 seconds (and extreme screaming over here – help me!). I feel like tweens are like walking mood boards. They can go from feeling like they’re on top of the world to feeling like that world has crumbled in a matter of seconds. But here’s the thing, all of their emotions are valid, even when you don’t agree. All feelings are just that, feelings.  It’s important to let them know that it’s okay to feel what they feel. They may be frustrated and still have not mastered how to properly handle and express their emotions. If you can find a way that helps them feel safe with freedom of expression, then they’ll be ready to take on anything that comes their way, from pre-algebra to puberty – yep, that’s coming your way very soon.

Encourage them to be themselves 

Encouraging your tween to be themselves is one of the best things you can do for their confidence and self-esteem. Let them rock that “weird” fashion style or listen to that music they love. Support their hobbies and interests, even if you are not the biggest fan. Remind them that it’s okay to be different and embrace their individuality. Who wants to be a boring clone anyway? The coolest people are the ones who are not afraid to be who they are, and embracing every ‘weirdness’ actually makes you pretty awesome.


Help them make friends and crush social anxiety

Tweens can get major FOMO and feel like they don’t fit in with their peers. My daughter tells me all the time about how she is worried that someone doesn’t want to play with her anymore. Friends are a huge thing at this age. They are feeling pressure to fit in and be accepted (and to be ‘cool’). Try helping them by nudging them to join a club or try a new activity that matches their interests, so they can meet friends who they vibe with.

You know those social skills you’ve been teaching them for the past few years? Don’t stop yet. Keep practicing active listening, empathy, and communicating effectively at home. Encourage them to ask questions, show interest in others, and be kind and respectful. This will help them build genuine connections with others, feel more confident in social situations, and develop a positive sense of self.

Keep them on track academically

Some tweens might feel a bit less than their friend because they are ‘smarter’ at school. For example, feeling major pressure to get good grades because “Ryan got a higher mark on his test than I did – he must be smarter than me”. Build good study habits together and celebrate all their achievements, big or small. Most importantly though, remind them that their worth isn’t tied to their school grades and that as long as they try their best, that is all that matters.

Set some limits

Okay, if I am going to be honest, this age is TOUGH. They still push your buttons like kids do, but they push much harder sometimes. So, you’ve got to find the balance between giving them some independence and setting limits. You don’t want them to feel like you’re controlling their every move, but you also want to make sure they’re staying safe and making responsible choices. That’s where setting clear boundaries comes in – let them know what’s expected of them, and what the consequences will be if they break the rules.

Don’t be too tough and strict though, they will need to have the space to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. It’s all about finding that sweet spot where they feel like they’re in control of their lives, but also know that you’ve got their back. Be patient and actively listen to their concerns, and show them how to be responsible and independent.

Encourage their passions

This is the age where they are really starting to know what makes them feel like they’re on top of the world. Maybe they feel super happy when they can perform with the school choir, maybe it’s painting a family portrait, or maybe it’s scoring goals on the field with friends. Figure out your tween’s passions and keep encouraging them to do what they love. Don’t forget to praise them and let them know how proud you are of them. It’s the same with you and I: when we are doing what we love, we feel confident and happy. Not only do passions help with self-esteem and confidence, it also gives them a sense of purpose.


Offer praise and encouragement

So if they are crushing something and making progress, don’t hold back those compliments. Be real and get specific with your praises so they know you’re not just blowing smoke. When you give compliments by focusing on their effort and hard work, they’ll see that success is all about working hard and trying your best, not just some magical talent. Don’t only give compliments about the outcome, also try to focus on their effort and progress.

Foster independence and a sense of responsibility

My daughter wants to do so many things now – she wants to be able to go out to play alone with friends, she wants to be able to have freedom to choose a lot of things. As the saying goes, “With freedom comes responsibilities”, I give her tasks that she need to do, to prove that she is responsible and can be independent. Of course, we are not talking about huge tasks like going to the grocery store for your weekly food supplies (I wish!), but more like helping with cleaning up the dishes and feeding the cat.

She also needs to be able to follow instructions and agree with rules such as coming home at a certain time if she goes to play with a friend. By knowing that they have the ability to be independent and have a sense of responsibility, they will feel more ‘grown-up’, which helps with building confidence in their decision-making skills, and feel more capable and self-assured.

Model positive self-talk

It is not easy to be positive all the time, even I struggle with my self-talk, let alone a child going through major changes! Tweens are still figuring out who they are and where they fit in the world so it’s even more important to keep modelling healthy self-talk and a positive attitude they you have been giving them since they were small. Focus on strengths and achievements together – you can do this as a family by sharing everyone’s achievement or something they are proud of that day. This can help them see that self-confidence is something that can be cultivated, practiced and valued.

Provide a safe space to express themselves

Being a tween is tough. With all the pressure to fit in and be like everyone else, and still not fully mature enough to have the words to express their feelings. It is our job to provide them a safe space where they can express themselves freely and authentically. Always model by example, admit to your own mistakes and show them that no one is perfect. Try to teach them that it’s perfectly okay to get things wrong and that doesn’t change the way you love them. By creating a nurturing and accepting environment, you’ll help build their confidence in their individuality and teach them to be comfortable in their own skin. Let them be who they are, and watch them shine!

Teach problem-solving skills

Tweens are at an age where they may encounter more difficult social situations (such as, “Emma says I have to walk her home, or else she doesn’t want to be my friend anymore”), and it’s important to help them develop problem-solving skills. Teach them how to identify a problem, brainstorm potential solutions, and evaluate the pros and cons of each option. This takes a lot of practice, but it’s one of the best life skills that you can start teaching to prepare them for (drum roll, please)… teen years. By feeling equipped to handle tricky situations, tweens can feel more confident in themselves, and stand for who they are.

So, if you’re a parent or caregiver of a tween, I know how you are feeling. It is not an easy stage to navigate, but just like other stages, you will nail it. These beautiful not-so-little humans need your support, guidance, and understanding. They need you to encourage them to be themselves, let them explore their interests, and give them the tools to navigate the rocky roads ahead. Always celebrate their successes, no matter how small, and be there consistently to pick them up when they stumble. Teach them that failure is not the end of the world, but actually an opportunity to learn and grow. Let them know that they are truly valued, and important just as they are.

Parents, your tweens are capable of amazing things, and the world is waiting to see all the wonderful things you will assist them in accomplishing. Keep helping them to be who they are, and always remind them that they are loved, so so loved.

All the best!

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