Why Is Your 9-year-old Behaving Like A Teenager?

Did you think that teenage is the time for emotional roller-coaster rides? Think again. Tweens in the 7 to 12 age group also go through changeable moods and behaviour. Find out why.

By Divya Sreedharan

Why Is Your 9-year-old Behaving Like A Teenager?

“You promised me I could watch that show. So what if I haven’t finished my homework, I’m not going to do it now!”

Nine-year-old Rahul is shouting at his mother, Ankita. When she tries to reason with him, the child suddenly bursts into tears.

“You promised but you didn’t keep your word. I hate you!”

Refusing to listen to her, he walks off into his room and slams the door.

Ankita is upset and bewildered. She is unable to understand her son’s behaviour. These days he is extremely unpredictable — one minute he is his usual sweet-natured self, the next minute the child is sulking, crying over small issues, slamming doors and, being disrespectful.

“He has become very emotional and is quick to anger, as well. But he is not even a teenager yet! I cannot understand why he is being like this,” the worried mother confides to her friends. To her surprise, friends who have children around the same age tell her they are facing the same thing at home. They too are puzzled and do not know how to handle this stage in their children.

Have you experienced this as well? Are you a parent whose tween (children in the seven to 12 age group) has been exhibiting changeable moods and emotions? Knowing why this is happening, will help you feel less stressed about their behaviour. And that means you will be able to help your tween manage their emotions in a healthier manner.

Your tween and change

That children are constantly growing and changing is something you already know. But their behaviour changes in small ways as they shed their preschooler years. And as your child crosses age nine, and edges closer to teenage, he goes through a complex phase of growth, both internal and external. The physical changes are visible, but it is the invisible ones that are not so easy to see or comprehend — both for you or your child. As psychologist Aarti Rajaratnam points out: “Tweens go through major changes physically, hormonally, emotionally, neurologically and, also have to deal with a sudden jump in academic goals and pressures”. This is a transitional phase. So much change happening at the same time can be difficult to handle, even for adults. Imagine how it must be for your child.

How you can help: Recognise that your child is changing and accept those changes. Isn’t it rather unfair to expect your little one to remain the way she used to be at age five? Also, note that your child is asserting her independence, has her own opinion about things. Do not feel sad that your child is no longer so dependent on you or does not require your approval for everything she does. As Aarti stresses, “A supportive environment, is essential. The best way to deal with this age group is for parents (and other adults, like teachers) to be more understanding and empathetic, instead of demanding and punitive.” Stay connected to your child. Make sure she knows that you love her and are always there for her. No matter how she is behaving at the time. Your presence — emotional, physical and psychological — is necessary for your child, especially now.

Your tween and moody behaviour

Your child will experience and display significant mood swings, in the course of a day. So, there can be sudden outbursts of anger, a tendency to sulk and get upset over seemingly trivial issues. Such behaviour can be inexplicable for parents. And it can be challenging to stay calm through it all. This means your child is also suddenly more sensitive to everything you say. And he may react or respond in a way that disturbs you. “Anger is the one emotion that most parents and teachers find hard to deal with, because it also manifests as violence. However, even states like extreme anxiety, fear and sadness, are common in the tween years,” observes Aarti.

How you can help: Yes, your child displays different moods within short periods of time. Understand that and try your best to stay patient. Dealing with your child’s anger can also be challenging. And some parents do tend to feel very upset. But instead of becoming angry yourself, make the effort to stay calm. Remember, how you react and respond to your tween does make a difference. According to Aarti, “...With two-way communication and the opportunity to express themselves, most tweens settle down and, develop emotional regulation gradually. What’s more, the fastest predictor of this learning will be the opportunity to model adults who also deal with emotions like anger effectively,” she points out.

Your tween and emotional maturity

This is an age when their emotional maturity is developing. So, at times, your tween may not even know why she reacts to something in a certain manner. She is also yet to develop the ability or the skills, to understand her feelings and express them appropriately. Therefore, as a parent, it will not help if you keep asking her why she is so upset about something that you think is trivial. After all, she may not be able to explain to you why she is feeling like this.

How you can help: Be empathetic and don’t belittle your child’s emotions. Do not say, “Why are you crying over something so silly?” Instead, try and nurture emotional maturity in your child as that is a vital life skill, says psychologist Dr Sulata Shenoy. This requires modelling the emotional maturity for your child too. “As parents, we must recognise that emotions by themselves, are not right or wrong. It is how you express those emotions that really matters. For instance, while extremely happy, a person may hug another person till it hurts or create a ruckus — that is as inappropriate a response as an angry/aggressive person doing the same,” she points out. Look at your own responses to your child’s behaviour and, manage your own emotions better, she advises. Sit with your child and get her to open up. Let her know that what she is feeling is okay. In time, she will learn to deal with her emotions better.

Your tween and discipline

Your tween can be disrespectful, behave badly or have angry outbursts. He may slam doors and yell at you, saying things like “I hate you!”, “You are always so unfair!” and, so on. He may not be willing to listen to what you have to say; instead, he may simply ignore you or look away. Also, he may rebel, more and more or, flatly refuse to do something. For instance, if you tell him that television time is over and that he has to finish his studies now, he may even disregard you. Or, go on to have a tantrum!

How you can help: First, try not to take it so personally, when your tween is rude. They really do not mean what they say. Rather than immediately punishing your child, give her some quiet time on her own so she can calm down.Then, ask her why she is so upset. Just listen and try not to interrupt or tell her what to do. Instead of lecturing her, give her the opportunity to explain, it will also help if you hug her and tell her you love her. And then be firm, but reasonable; offer help with time-management skills and, make sure she knows there are some rules that are non-negotiable. If she wants to watch her favourite show, she can do so for an allotted time, once she has finished her school project or homework. She needs to learn what to prioritise and when, because that ability will become crucial as she grows older. 

Your tween and external factors

As your child changes, keep in mind that the physical environment around also plays a part. For instance, your child’s behaviour may sometimes be caused by sleep-deprivation. That can make him over-tired and unable to cope with what is happening. Similarly, too much gadget-time or, not enough physical activity or play, can adversely affect him. Another vital aspect is diet. If he has sugary cereal for breakfast or snacks on fried foods too often, it can play havoc with his health and his hormones. Stress at home between family members, can also affect the child negatively.

How you can help: Dr Shenoy says parents often overlook the role of external factors. “Hunger, lack of sleep and stress (at school or home) can aggravate the condition, so it is important to take care of these factors first,” she stresses. Remember, when parents fight, it can leave a lasting impression on your child. After all, children are very sensitive and react to emotional undercurrents at home. Ensure you give your child nutritious food and cut down on high-salt, high-sugar foods. Limiting gadget time and encouraging physical play is a good idea. Are there friends your child can play with, in the neighbourhood? If not, enrolling her in dance or some sport or martial art, can make a difference. This will have a positive effect on your child, boost self-esteem and, keep her healthy as well as happy.

Your tween may be asserting his independence, but deep down, he needs to be reassured that you are there for him. During this challenging time, make the effort to stay connected. Guide your child the right way, so that he is prepared for the greater changes he will experience in the teenage years. 

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