How to prepare for female adolescence

We celebrated my oldest daughter’s 9th birthday this year, and it occurred to me that this is her last year before she hits double digits. I found myself looking through old photos of Paige after she had gone to bed and I thought gosh where does time go? I thought of how next year she will officially be a preteen or “tween.” Eeeek! Like a lot of things in my motherhood journey, I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for the next few years ahead. I can still remember going through these years as a tween myself, navigating the confusing emotions and turning to friends who were likely just as confused. Of course I didn’t feel comfortable going to my parents about everything, so some days I just tried to figure out the rollercoaster of emotions by myself. Alone is something I never want my kids to feel and I want to make sure they are comfortable sharing their feelings with me. So one afternoon while the kids were browsing through the rows and rows of books at our local library I found myself wandering towards the parenting section and came across the book “From Tweens to Teens” – a parenting guide preparing girls for adolescence by psychotherapist Dr. Maria Clark Fleshwood. It was an interesting read which gave me some interesting ideas on how I can support my quickly approaching tween so I’d thought I would share.

In the book Dr. Fleshwood does a great job of providing a framework to help parents become more present and active in their daughters lives by using rituals to help support daughters form a stronger sense of self, develop the confidence to follow their dreams and most importantly strengthen their connection to loved ones. Rituals you ask? I was a bit confused and skeptical myself. According to Dr. Fleshwood:

” Meaningful rituals are effective and essential for countless reasons. Constructing rituals appropriate for girls today is a powerful, practical, and cost-effective way for parents to build honest and open communication and experiences that deepen understanding at a time when girls often feel abandoned or misunderstood, resulting in their only source for comfort is social media networking or peer groups. Healthy and meaningful communication stabilizes and deepens girls’ connections with their family members. It builds confidence in those relationships, empowering girls to stand rather than surrender when they encounter outside voices asking them to do everything their inner voice is screaming not to do. Well-planned, personalized rituals are intentional celebrations that build a girl’s sense of self from the inside, empowering her to draw from that place when she comes up against external pressures from peer, academics, social networking and media.”

Dr. Fleshwood breaks it down into stages and corresponding rituals to carry out between the ages of 8-13.

Age 8 – Separation – This marks the first stage in preadolescence where females are transitioning from being young girls into a young women. These are the years that girls begin the desire to explore other things beyond the family and home environment, for example wanting to spend more time with friends. The ritual for this stage requires that you gather a group of people who represent, “strength, self-compassion and wisdom” for your daughter. They are loved ones who your daughter can turn to if she is feeling confused or needs guidance. During this ritual these people bring something that symbolizes their bond with your daughter. Examples could be a letter of encouragement, pretend cell phone letting your daughter know she can always call them, or even a funny photo reassuring your daughter that they will always be there to make her laugh or see the brighter side of things.

Age 9 – Letting Go – 9 is an age where girls start to view themselves as a individual but still within their family. While still continuing to seek approval from parents this is a year where she will want to be more involved in decision making around schedules and activities. This ritual encourages her to explore her thoughts and trust her decisions. This ritual requires having a conversation with your daughter to talk about any changes she has noticed in herself compared to a year ago, for example wanting more freedom or wanting more involvement in decision making. Then talk about what changes she would like to see, things she would like to let go of, or add in her life. One example for Paige this year was not feeling the need for me to walk her to her line up at school but rather just be dropped off. Next document the beliefs, or roles that she would like to let go of. You could write them down on a piece of paper or rock and ask your daughter how she would like to let go of them. Some examples are to keep them in special box, or throw the rocks in a river. Whatever she decides, this ritual is supposed to represent how your daughter is changing and how it feels to let go of certain roles, feelings and beliefs.

Age 10 – Making wise connections – So far parents and caregivers have had the most influence in your daughter’s life. As she hits age 10 she is exposed to other social groups and settings and just like she has defined her role and identity in the family unit, she now has to somehow find her identity outside the home. As girls enter their preteens they often value encouragement from outside role models such as teachers. The ritual of making wise connections helps connect your daughter with mentors that will help her form a stronger sense of identity while staying true to herself. Examples could be coaches, teachers or family members who your daughter looks up to and will find value from. Introducing your daughter to volunteer opportunities is another way to connect her to community which also promotes face to face interactions which is crucial at this age with the increasing time spent on electronic devices. Making wise connections also involves introducing your daughter to healthy food choices promoting ownership over her health and self care.

Age 11- Staying connected – This is the age that girls begin sharing less with their parents and more with their peers. They move from wanting approval from their parents to wanting approval from their peers. Some girls are afraid to stand up for what they believe and minimize their needs for fear of rejection from their friends. This ritual involves setting aside a time and place alone with your daughter to help you understand what her experiences are as a preteen so you are able to effectively guide her. Ask her what it’s like to have you as parent and let her explain using a few sentences. Don’t interrupt her and repeat back what she told you. Try and look through her lens as an 11 year old. If you are unaware of any negative behaviours your daughter has pointed out in you, own them and be open to change. During this ritual you do not have to agree with each other but you do have to acknowledge each other and validate each others feelings. The second part is having your daughter ask you what is was like for you at her age. Same rules apply, answer with few sentences and have her repeat back. This ritual fosters a safe environment and trust between you and your daughter. It helps you both learn how to have respectful conversations without judgement which will increase your daughters self confidence and self worth.

Age 12 – Dropping inside – Age 12 is when your daughter officially enters her adolescent years which can be some of the most challenging years with so many changes happening in the body and mind. Increased anxiety and stress can increase as girls try to meet the demands from school, activities and their peers. They tend to appear more emotional and irritable and having tools to help respond to these pressures is key. This ritual involves incorporating mindfulness based techniques which help to reduce anxiety, stress and assist with impulse control. Below are a few links to some mindfulness exercises I have found to be helpful myself:

Age 13 – The return – This is an age where your daughter will continue to expand her goals that further challenge her involving more risk. This is also an age where she may find herself in uncomfortable situations. Further deepening and strengthening your relationship with your daughter will continue to provide her reassurance and safety letting her know she can always come to you if needed. This final ritual involves a gathering, again with those who have supported and mentored her. This is a time where your daughter can share how each person has helped shape and influence her. Sharing her experiences further deepens the relationships with her mentors, and she becomes reminded again of the people she can turn to for further guidance or any challenges she may face in the future.

At first I was a bit skeptical about using rituals to help prepare Paige for adolescence, primarily because it seemed a bit too structured and formal but after reading the book a few times I am recognizing more value from each ritual and am willing to give it try. I also think some of these rituals would be helpful for boys! Here’s to hoping these strategies will help me feel more prepared as a parent for the unpredictable yet exciting years for Paige.

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