Where did my sweet little girl go? Learning the language of our tween daughters

This article outlines some of the common traits of preteen girls, and how we can read between the lines to better understand them.

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  • Adolescence is a wonderful reminder to parents that our job is to prepare our kids for life in the real world. While we might prefer to keep them safe in our arms forever, big changes are on the way for our little girls, and it is going to affect relationships within the family. The good news is that our sweet little girls haven’t gone too far, they are just hiding inside a tide of hormones.

  • There are times when your preteen daughter may resemble something out of “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.” Rest assured that her personality changes are entirely normal. If you’re tempted to take your daughter’s behavior personally, try to remember your own first few years of puberty. If you need help, give your mom a call. Mine takes special joy in reminding me that I was an expert door slammer.

  • However, we should be aware that times are now a little different. Our daughters are becoming adults in a world saturated with technological influences, which add a level of pressures we didn’t have. "Young people are faced with an increasingly complex society. There's been an explosion of possibilities due to industrialization and technology. But along with those opportunities are more hazards to get them off track," says Dr. Anthony Burrow of Cornell University. While tensions may run high at times, offering our girls a healthy amount of empathy and compassion will go a long way in keeping us connected through the thunderstorm of adolescence. Take a look at the following common traits you can expect of your tween girl and some suggestions to help you read between the lines.

  • The door slam, the heavy sigh and the eye roll

  • These common expressions are staples for an adolescent girl. They are usually on the top of the list of "most annoying traits" to parents. Typically these are ways for our daughters to express their deep frustrations and anxieties. It sure feels personal, but it isn’t. It can be an ongoing battle. Yet, many parents find it useful to encourage their daughters to express their frustration in writing (using a daily journal), exercise or listening to music.

  • Pretzel Logic

  • To illustrate this pitfall, allow me to share a conversation I had with my daughter some time ago.

    • Sweetie, please do the dinner dishes tonight.

    • Why do I have to do them? My brother doesn’t have to do dishes. You like him better.

    • We all have chores. He has to take out the trash.

    • The trash takes 5 minutes, the dishes take forEVER.

    • The dishes can take 5 minutes, too. If you spend your time doing them instead of complaining.

    • Well, when you take out the trash, your hands don’t have to get wet.

    • Wear gloves.

    • Putting on gloves takes at least 2 minutes, which means it’s harder than taking out the trash.

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  • And so on. How do you argue with this kind of logic? You can’t. Quantum physicists can’t. Don’t be tempted to engage or think that you will be able to convince her because, more than likely, she already understands you. She’s just learning to practice undeveloped argumentative logic. Keep it simple, and you’ll save hours of frustration.

  • Tears, laughter, tears, laughter

  • This cycle can come in two minute intervals. As heartbreaking as it is to watch your baby girl crumple into a heap on the floor and sob over a broken pencil lead, we’ve been there. We can help our daughters by explaining that their feelings are important, but not to put too much stock into them when they are so fleeting. “By explaining the effect of hormones on emotions, some parents help their teens feel less worried about their feelings," says Judith Cooper of the University of Wisconsin. Parents should remember that, as well. If we ride the emotional roller coaster with them, we’ll be far too exhausted to be the support they need. Being an adolescent girl isn’t for wimps.

  • The compliment-killer

  • I noticed pretty early into adolescence that, as Mom, my compliments seemed to roll off my daughter like water off a duck’s back. On her way out the door one morning, I said to her, “You look so pretty today,” which was met with a snarly, “Gee mom, thanks. You say that like it’s the first time ever.” The truth is she feels safe expressing her own self-doubts to me. What she meant was, “I need to hear that all the time right now.” Their bodies, minds, and emotions are in constant turmoil. We need to take every opportunity to remind them of the truth, even when it doesn’t seem like they can hear us.

  • BFFs

  • My daughter and I have always been very close. So you can imagine how surprising it was to me to find that I’m no longer her #1 girl. I started realizing that there were secrets her friends knew that she hadn’t told me, yet. Stuff about boys, bras, and silly inside jokes that I didn’t get. Ouch. Low and behold, isn’t this part of growing up? Doesn’t she need influences outside of her mother, just as I do? I have to put a lot more effort into nurturing the closeness of our relationship than I did when I was her only hero. However, I can also be grateful that she is learning how to navigate her own relationships using the tools I’ve given her.

  • The tween years are just the beginning of one of the most difficult transitions in your child’s life. By keeping things simple, exercising patience, and showing compassion we can help them not just survive, but thrive through adolescence. Be comforted, with your support, your sweet little girl will emerge from this change as a lovely woman.

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Margaret Crowe is a poet and mother of two from Charlotte, North Carolina. 

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