There’s a lot of information around about raising girls under six, and over thirteen – but where’s the guide for the space in between?
I remember a colleague once telling me that the age my children are now (six and eight) are the golden years. This is the time in their life where they want to hang out with me, they say hilarious and insightful things, and I no longer have to wipe their bottoms.
While I am finding this is true, I am very aware of how my kids are changing. My attention has shifted from whether they are about to fall off the bed to what’s going on in those incredible minds. They are starting to flourish and grow in different ways, and I’m wondering how I can guide them well in this phase of their life.
GROWING UP IN A DIFFERENT WORLD
Madonna King is the author of Ten-Ager: What your daughter needs you to know about the transition from child to teen. She says that the world is confusing for children in this age group, and there’s a huge difference between girls of the same age.
“Some still want to hold their parent’s hand on the walk into school, others want to know what you do if you are interested in boys. The smartphone has made this group of girls older, very quickly – and that presents all sorts of challenges. There is no white space in their lives. They are reorienting themselves away from their families in the search for independence, but become locked in a world where they need to fit in, at any cost. It is such a different world to that of their parents, and even their big sisters, and that is making it even more complex.”
WE NEED TO LISTEN, EVEN IF WE DON’T UNDERSTAND
One of the things that King found in her research is that children of the pre-tween age want us to listen. But we need to listen without judgement. “I know that sounds easy but it’s not, and it’s not happening. Our girls just want us to spend more time with them (even if they don’t ask) and for us to really hear what they are trying to tell us.”
That could be an issue that is important (a child being mean at school) but it could also be something you think is frivolous, like a joke they were telling at school, or what just happened on YouTube. We lead such busy lives, but at this age they look to us to be seen. And if we’re distracted by the washing up or organising the week ahead, they know we’re not really present.
THE BEST TIME TO ENCOURAGE INDEPENDENCE
Dr Kimberley O’Brien is a child psychologist at The Quirky Kid. She says that this is the best time to encourage our children’s independence. She suggests that cooking is a good place to start. Let them choose the recipe, buy the ingredients, cook, and set the table.
“I think that [this] age is such a special time because they love to be right beside you, watching what you’re doing. And of course, that won’t last much beyond 12 years when they don’t want to be seen with you and they want to be with their friends. And so I think you make the most of it. Make them your number one helper and teach them everything you’re doing and then hand over those tasks and praise them. I think they really will thrive with praise, new skills and lots of independence.”
King’s research illustrated how we are not letting our girls take risks, and that this is hurting them. “The point is that unless they learn to navigate tricky issues, they won’t be able to do it when we’re not around to help, and it’s crucial they learn these issues before they have to make decisions about jobs and partners and other important things.” Ultimately this means letting our children navigate things like failing tests, difficult friendships and possibly walking to school.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FRIENDSHIPS
Speaking of friendships, this is the age when they really start to matter. But given I can’t force either child to be friends with kids I think are good for them, what can I do?
Dr Christopher Scanlon is the co-author of Raising Girls Who Like Themselves. He says that friendships are important and that we can help our children by teaching them friendship skills. “Friendship skills are something that I think we often assume are just going to happen, you just push your kid into the group of other children, and they’ll work it out. And we don’t often think that these are learned skills.”
We can help our kids by workshopping different situations and asking them how they might have handled things differently. We can teach them how to have boundaries and work out for themselves how they want to be treated.
My children are unfolding like flowers. I will listen when I don’t really understand. I will put down the dirty dish and I will see them. Because who knows how long these golden days will last?