by Sharyn Spradlin and Cyndie Steenis
Working with preteens can be a roller coaster ride of emotions.
One minute you’re engaged in a great discussion focusing on faith. You’re impressed with kids’ spiritual and intellectual growth. Then out of nowhere one of your preteens falls apart when he feels everyone looking at him. The emotional outburst escalates until he runs out of the room screaming that no one likes him. Only minutes ago impressed, you’re suddenly depressed by the emotional state of your preteens.
Preteens’ intellects and emotions are developing on two different timetables, with the emotions falling behind. The emotional life of preteens is at the core of their beings. They’re focused on their own feelings, ideas, and behavior. They also believe that these feelings, thoughts, and actions are on the minds of everyone else, so they often feel as though there’s an audience always watching, judging, accepting, or rejecting them.
If a preteen’s words or actions seem aimed at you, your first response may be to take it personally, perhaps with tears and anger. Don’t!
Don’t personalize the outburst. Remember—these tantrums are a part of the normal pushing away and pulling close that every preteen works through as he or she moves toward independence.
“Nobody Likes Me!”—Affirm preteens’ feelings. Don’t dismiss their emotions or deny their sense of reality. Let them vent and explain why they feel disliked. Empathize with what they believe to be true, and help them talk through their feelings. You may even share how you felt as a preteen—not how everything worked out. Offering solutions is not the goal here.
Once you’ve identified the traumatic event that caused the preteen’s world to crumble, stay calm and offer encouragement. Look for the positives that’ll help him or her regain balance and control.
“I Don’t Like Myself.”—Plagued by unachievable standards of perfection, beauty, and popularity, preteens have been set up for failure. Their self-esteem and emotional cores are under attack, so take their words seriously.
Ask questions about how they feel, and watch for feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Encourage them with everything you know to be positive about them.
“Just Go Away.”—This is a Jekyll/Hyde statement. What this preteen is really saying is: “Please stay and get to know who I am, what my interests are, what my likes and dislikes are, the names of my friends, and who I hang out with. Please stay and communicate with me, not at me. Please, someone help me put words to the feelings I have.”
The preteen years are often turbulent. They demand more than a few fun activities or free time with friends. In a sense, preteens are on that roller coaster ride emotionally. They need your willingness to strap in next to them—so they can be confident you care and that you’ll be there when they need you. They want to know you’ll be sitting right next to them, buckled in and holding tight, when they open up to you. They want to know that when the ride is fast and unpredictable, you’ll see the difference between needing to be heard and needing advice. They need to know that even around those tight curves, you’ll be listening, and actually hearing what they say.
Sharyn Spradlin and Cyndie Steenis co-founded New Re-sors-es, a Seattle, Washington, consulting and training company.
© 2003 Children's Ministry Magazine. Used by permission.