Teaching Your Tween to Be Herself: It's Not Easy, But Author Nancy Rue Can Help

Sheri Reed

tween girl mirrorMost of us moms have done it. We've responded to our kid's social anxieties and worries about fitting in with a simple "Just be yourself!"

Oftentimes, we throw this quip out in desperation and forget that our kids haven't quite hit "self discovery" yet and might not even have the tools for finding their authentic selves in the first place.

Today I'm talking to Nancy Rue, the author of Moms' Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World. Nancy offers advice to moms of tween girls for identifying this uncertainty of self and provides specific ways for moms to support their daughters in discovering and becoming proud of the true girls they are inside and out.

Nancy, in terms of self discovery, what's the biggest issue tween girls face?

Whether she can put it into words for you or not, it's so apparent to her: How can I be myself when I don't even know who I am?

Yours may never voice it. She might not even be able to identify that funkiness she feels when she approaches a social situation where nobody knows her name -- or her true self. But unless she is the only perfectly adjusted girl-child who has ever lived, this feeling is going to be there at some point.

For some girls, the feeling fades the minute they walk in that unfamiliar door and immediately become the life of the party. For others, it takes some time to find a niche. For still others, that sense of not feeling quite real becomes a way of being. Think about it -- have you never wondered which "self" you're supposed to be in a brand new arena?

It's incredibly important for a mom to help her tween daughter find out who she is because there are plenty of other people telling her who she should be.

Where are these messages about who a girl should be coming from?

Media: You've got the media trying to make her grow up too fast; they themselves call it K.G.O.Y. (kids growing older younger).

Peers: Pressure to fit in has kicked in -- own the right stuff, talk the right way, wear the right clothes, and have the right coolness factor, which can change at any moment. School is becoming more standardized, leaving less room for self-expression six hours a day.

Parents: Some kids are so tightly scheduled they don't have time to contemplate who it is that's doing all this stuff. And failure just doesn't seem to be an option anymore; we want them to be perfect, and if they're not, we run to an expert, a doctor, a personal tutor. Without down time, space to dream, opportunities to try on selves and figure out what works, it's harder than ever for a tween girl to discover who she is.

How do you know if your daughter is wrestling with who she is?

Classic signs include: 

  • Giggling like a nervous hyena.
  • Crying for no apparent reason.
  • Bringing out the negativity with both barrels (suddenly everybody else is a moron).
  • Having an abrupt personality transplant. Hormones do play a role, but just as often, I-don't-know-how-I'm-supposed-to-act-right-now is the trigger. 

But she's in there, and she really needs to know that.

What can moms do to help their tween daughters get to know and love themselves?

  1. Give her space and time to wonder and experiment and try out what she's learning. Can there be at least one afternoon a week when she doesn't have something scheduled? Seriously, wouldn't you enjoy an hour to sort through the day without somebody yelling, "Hurry up! It's time to go!"
  2. Don't label her. "She's my shy one." "She's going to be a lawyer, I know it." "I never saw a kid so stubborn." That makes it far less likely that she's going to explore all that she is. 
  3. Help her say what she means. "Okay, let's find out what's going on here," when she's going off is better than, "That's it. You're grounded!"
  4. Listen to her when she speaks in her own voice. When your maternal antennae tunes into a tone that says, "I'm in trouble here," she's about to tell you who she is.
  5. Let her make mistakes. Figure out which decisions can be safely left up to her and let her make them. Give her guidance, but let her take the consequences when she makes a bad choice. She's figuring herself out.
  6. Remember that she isn't your clone. Thank heaven, right?
  7. Above all, enjoy her. Show her that you treasure her most precious self. A lot of the time she does have a certain confidence, a sense of adventure typical of her age, so revel in it. Love it, and her.

The ability to be authentic is a gift, and you can help your daughter embrace it. Do it now, before she loses her mind and becomes a teenager.

Do you see your daughter struggling to be and be proud of her true self?


Image via St. Groove/Flickr

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