Puke, pee, poo and potties… funny how all the messy parts of the parenting process seem to begin with a “P”. And now here’s another one: puberty. Yep, whether it’s a full-blown transformation or just the early signs, puberty is on its way, dad. So you better get used to the idea and try to prepare yourself…
As your pre-teener begins their journey into adolescence, they’ll probably start moving away from the family to form stronger relationships with friends, which can be hard for fathers to deal with. And although good friendships are key to your son and daughter’s development, peer pressure will also start to dominate, and we all know the implications of that.
However, confident children seem to resist negative peer pressure and make better choices for themselves. So even though they may seem to be pushing you and Mum away, pre-teeners really do need us parents as a stable force, albeit in the background, helping them build their self-confidence and sense of responsibility on the road to independence.
During these four years, they’ll really start to find their feet and develop their true characters with a sense of who they are, what they want and what they’re good at. While at the age of 8 they’re still relatively young children, by the age of 11 they’ll be developing adult bodies and making the transition from primary to senior school.
By now your kids have a good idea whether activities or actions are safe or not. However, they may forget the safety rules or disobey them, wrongly assess a risk or want to show off to their friends by testing their abilities to the limit. As your kids become increasingly independent they can do many more things without adult supervision. But as they step out into new areas of responsibility, remember to alert them to potential dangers that we might take for granted – and set a good example yourself!
- They’ll start doing more things on their own – visiting a friend’s house, catching the bus to school, popping to the shop, walking the dog, going to the park – but make sure you know where your child’s going to be, who they’re with and when you expect them home. Mobile phones are useful so you can contact them at all times and make sure they know your number or have it written down – not just stored in their phone.
- More than 7,000 8 to11-year olds are hurt in road accidents each year, so make them aware of road safety guidelines, especially if they’re crossing roads or riding bikes without you. And always ensure they’re safely strapped in when travelling in the car – and you should wear a seatbelt, too.
- If you’re happy to leave them home alone for short periods of time, teach them not to open the door and tell phonecallers that: “Dad can’t come to the phone just now
- ”, rather than “Dad’s out”. Make sure they’ve got contact numbers for you and Mum and of someone who lives nearby in case of an emergency. Tell them clearly what they can and can’t do – for example getting a cold drink or snack might be ok, but it’s probably best to keep hot food and drink out of bounds for now.
- When you’re around, encourage them to get involved in more risky cooking and DIY projects, always making sure they handle knives and tools safely. You can start teaching them how to safely remove hot dishes from the oven, make toast, boil a kettle, saw and hammer, clean out animals and operate a washing machine.
- About 12,000 children in this age group – especially boys – are injured from falls and accidents in public playgrounds – often as a result of peer pressure and dares. Discuss safety issues with your child and help them find stimulating but safe play areas and activities. Continue to warn them against swimming in open water and playing in dangerous areas such as derelict buildings, railways and building sites.
- And keep the channels of communication open about the dangers of smoking, drugs, alcohol, knife crime, substance abuse and violence. Hopefully they won’t be exposed to any of these just yet, but you’re laying down the ground rules for when they are.
Puberty usually begins between 9 and 12, so over the next few years your kids will be undergoing some big physical changes. It’s really important to talk to your child, especially your sons, about what they’re likely to experience – stressing that however weird it may sound, it’s all perfectly normal. Daughters really need some female guidance, so single-dads might enlist the help of a trusted friend. If you find it too embarrassing, leave some pamphlets or a book in their room.
- Most 8-11s will experience growth spurts, which tend to begin earlier for girls and last longer for boys. They’ll grow taller and stronger; girls will become curvier, boys’ shoulders will broaden, and their genitals will mature. Their joints may ache due to rapid growth.
- Testosterone is usually triggered in males from 11-14 and oestrogen/progesterone in females around 9-12. Their skin will become more oily, they’ll sweat more and you’ll probably notice an increase in BO. Make sure they understand the importance of washing themselves properly and stock up on deodorant and spot cream.
- Most girls start their periods from 10-16, normally two years after their breasts and pubic hair have started to develop. Have some sanitary products put by in readiness.
- With boys, you know what to expect – the scrotum darkens, testes and penis grow, their voice deepens, sperm’s produced, erections are more frequent and they’ll start having wet dreams. These can occur in the run-up to puberty, so give your son the low-down well in advance in case he worries he’s wet the bed.
- They’ll become more body conscious, so do respect their privacy, but beware of any serious body image issues or eating disorders, which can start around this stage.Their sporting skills are maturing now and they may well show promise in a particular sport. If they’re not very athletic, help them find a physical activity that they do enjoy.
- Obviously the time will come when you need to talk about sex with your child, and you’re the best judge of when they might be mature enough. They’ll be learning the mechanics in Year 6 at school but there’s more information on handling the wider implications in our 11-13 section.
At the bottom of this age group, your kids are still young enough to view dad as both a cool friend and a powerful authority figure, but by the age of 11, they’ll probably act like you’re a nuisance and embarrassment. They’re looking to assert their independence and friendships become key; it’s now their mates who they share their thoughts and secrets with, and who they’ll turn to for guidance and inspiration. However, it’s vital not to feel rejected and turn your back on your kids – you need to find ways to stay connected with them, so that you can guide, support, discipline and love them. Pre-teeners need to know they’ve got a safe and secure environment where they can seek sanctuary when the going gets tough, which of course it will!
- Fitting in becomes really important, from the clothes they wear to the TV shows they watch, gadgets they own and activities they participate in. They’ll go to great lengths to make sure they blend in and don’t stand out from their peers. Tolerate it where you can, but put your foot down if you think they’re being led astray in ways you’re not happy about – whether it’s doing activities or using language that you find unacceptable, giving up ‘uncool’ hobbies that you know they enjoy or demanding to buy stuff you simply can’t afford. And keep telling them that it’s cool to be different, they are an individual – and it’s what they’re like inside that really counts.
- They may show an interest in the opposite sex, develop crushes and start dating. Having a boyfriend or girlfriend is often seen as a good way to impress their friends, but these relationships are usually short-lived. It’s never too soon to talk to your kids about how you should treat – and be treated by – your boyfriend or girlfriend.
- This is a good age to encourage them to join in extra-curricular activities at school or within the community. It’ll help them widen their skills and their circle of friends, and many sports and arts events and groups such as Brownies or Cubs will help them become better team players.
- 8 to 11 year-olds continue to improve their problem-solving abilities and independent thinking, especially through their school work. As they reach the end of primary school, your child will face more academic challenges and may worry or struggle as topics become more complex and homework is more involved. Encourage them to read every day, talk to them about their homework and although it’s good to show an interest and offer suggestions, don’t give too much help. Most schools hold a second set of statutory tests (SATs) at age 11, which they’ll need to study for, and praise their efforts – even if the results aren’t too hot.
- They’re continually developing their thinking skills and show more maturity in their decision making, knowledge of what’s right and wrong and respecting the needs of others. They can mask their feelings, listen to reason, apologise, show self control over anger or frustration and share with and involve others. Remember to show an interest in their viewpoints and don’t mock them if they get something wrong.
- Parents still have a powerful influence on the judgements that our kids make but this tends to be based on what we do and how we act, more than on what we say. So if you want a pre-teen who’s kind, respectful, positive and happy to help, you need to model those qualities.
- Inevitably, with all those hormones kicking around, they’ll experience mood swings, and parents are likely to bear the brunt of their angst and anger. Try to remain calm and avoid getting dragged into a shouting match.
- Make sure you still spend time with your kids, and talk to them about their friends, what music they like, their challenges and achievements at school, their goals in life, and their thoughts on anything and everything. See our Top Tips for Talking to your Kids. Keep up to date with what’s going on at school and support them at sports events, concerts and plays. Make time for family dinners around the table, where everyone helps and you all take turns to talk.
- They rely on your support so be involved, show an interest and encourage them. Give praise rather than criticism, help them make choices for themselves, listen to what they say, answer their questions, nurture their creativity and offer them a wide range of experiences.
- As their friendships take priority, get to know their mates and their families. Invite friends over for meals, sleepovers and activities.
- Ask them about their goals and ambitions, what careers they’re interested in and help them think how they could develop the necessary skills and abilities they’d need.
- It’s important that kids gain a sense of responsibility along with their growing independence, so stop doing some things for your kids – and start teaching them key skills that they’ll need later in life. Get them helping out around the house, help them develop DIY skills, talk to them about saving and spending money.
- Continue to help your child develop their sense of right and wrong. Talk through why things their friends might do – like dangerous dares or smoking – are bad.
- It’s really key to encourage your child to respect others, so teach them about helping people who are less fortunate, either by being kind to less popular kids in their class or supporting a charitable cause. It’s a great age for them to get involved in some kind of volunteer work or a sponsored activity.
- Support their learning by helping them revise, taking them places that relate to what they’re studying, suggesting different authors they could read and developing their problem-solving skills with games like chess or Risk.
- As their parents, you and Mum are still in charge, and your son and daughter has to respect that, but you’ll have to amend the rule book to deal with their growing independence. You could involve your child in drawing up the new rules. Discuss your expectations, give reasons for the rules, decide on the punishments for breaking them – and stick to them. Hard as it may be, good parents are responsible for disciplining children to guide and protect them in life.
- Love them. This may sound a bit mushy, but a hug at any time, a “well-done” when they’ve been successful, telling them “it doesn’t matter” when they think they’ve messed up and just being there when they want to kick off about life. That’s what being a Dad is all about.
- Last but not least, have fun with them. Watch a funny film together, spectate at a sports event or hold a family activity marathon!
Hopefully this has helped you help them on their journey towards adolescence.