Blending Your StepFamily 42: Parenting ‘Tweens During A Divorce or Separation

Pam Rohr Slider1

Children ages nine-to-twelve, often referred to as Tweens, are able to speak about their feelings and they understand the reality of their family situations.  When their parents separate or divorce, they usually try hard to handle their feelings of sadness, anger and anxiety. They may handle things very resourcefully and disguise their feelings from everyone. Many become active in play as a way to cope. Some may also help out with new responsibilities or otherwise “manage” things in their family.  More than younger children, 9 to 12-year-olds are openly angry. They may experience a conflict of loyalty between each parent and, if the conflict between parents is high, they may try to cope by rejecting one parent or trying to keep both happy by saying negative things about one to the other. They are also beginning to experience the world outside their family. They may have sporting, art, dancing, singing or other interests and social commitments become more important. When you make parenting arrangements you should take account of your children’s interests and activities. This allows them the opportunity to join in the social and sporting activities which are an important part of their development. Where possible, it would be beneficial for children to continue their activities regardless of who is caring for them.

Tweens may view their parents with outrage or moral indignation concerning the end of the marriage and the family as they have known it to exist.  They usually do not believe they are the cause of the divorce like younger children, but blame their parents. Anger, if it’s not disguised, is shown in several ways. For instance, some children may have temper outbursts or they may become bossy and demanding. Your tween may not know why they feel so angry; it may be rooted in feelings of being cheated “why couldn’t my parents stay together like Susie’s .  Some may protest when their parents begin dating new people.

Nine to twelve-year-olds have various fears, a common one being a fear of being forgotten by their parents. Some may begin to perform less well in school, and their relationships with friends may become disrupted or strained. Some may even complain of physical, stress-related symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches.

One year after divorce, about half of the 9 to 12-year-old children are still showing some distress related to the divorce.  The resolution of their feelings about divorce seems to take a while.

This group begins to understand the concept of morals. When they are told to do “moral” things, but see their parents break the rules it creates a conflict within them; thus, morality can become confusing if it’s not modeled. Who are the rules for anyway?   It is very important for parents to model what they expect from their kids.  If lying is unacceptable for the child, then it should be unacceptable behavior by the parent as well. If you don’t want your kid to cuss, then don’t model it.  Be the example you would like your child to follow.

How can you help your tween to cope and continue to develop healthily through the divorce?

Providing consistency is a must.  Their world is already rocked so it’s important they know what to expect and what is expected from them.  They will begin to have widening boundaries along with bigger consequences for poor decision-making. Let them know that they will receive more privileges as long as you can trust them with their choices.

As a way to express pent up emotions, offer physical and creative activities to keep them active and interested. Getting them involved in 4-H or Scouts is a healthy outlet. Sports are a great way to relieve tension. Chores around the house can give them a way to work off some aggression while causing them to feel important in the family.   Since they may be angry, stress your rules for not harming others but encourage them to talk with you about their feelings. Positive feedback is a very important reward at this age. It can come in the form of hugs, verbal affirmation, quality time together and pats on the back.

Kids this age will benefit from having a significant adult in a mentor role who will make them feel special and secure.

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