What Is The Most Difficult Phase In Childhood?
“ It’s a stupid question,” I can hear you shout at the screen.
“ They're all difficult in different ways: from infancy to young adulthood!”
And of course, you’re right.
Each phase of childhood serves a specific developmental purpose, and to ‘flunk’ one stage, makes future stages more difficult.
However, if my life depended on the answer to the question, it would be that early adolescence (ages 10) is both the most difficult, and the most important phase, in a child’s life.
No-one appreciates the early adolescence they make it so hard- except their teachers, who tend to be devoted to them.
Your child that has been perfect up until this goes to bed one night, and when he/she awakens, you are confronted, suddenly, with a whole different person who you have never met before.
Suddenly you, the parent, are transported back to your own years as an early adolescent, when the roles were reversed, and you were the one that experienced the invasion of the body snatchers, while your poor parents were the bewildered, shellshocked couple.
You need to call now and apologize!
So, how do I justify my answer?
Besides from the ‘terrible twos’, the greatest physical, cognitive, and social-emotional changes in a child take place in early adolescence.
Fortunately, for the 2-year old, mom and dad represent a benevolent, protective, guiding authority; unfortunately, for the adolescent, it is part of their task to reject such authority, and to make sure they do so in the most loud and obnoxious ways possible.
What bewildered parents need to understand is that their children’s behavior is most predictable, and it is how they react and modify their parenting that will decide if the child will emerge from this phase of their lives reasonably happy and in good shape.
It begins with puberty, on average from 10 years onwards.
Puberty represents the physical changes that take place at this time. Your boy child may suddenly sprut from being 5’0” to over 6’ tall, in what often seems like an overnight process.
Your stick-like daughter suddenly starts to develop hips and breasts, and her world is turned upside down, both for the better and the worse.
Some children develop physically fast and early; some do not until much later, and this has important social-emotional implications.
The common sight at the middle school dance of the suddenly well-developed young woman dancing with a boy that might pass as her much younger brother: half her height and weight, is comical on the surface, but represents a major issue for the early adolescent,
For the boy, his status is now more difficult. In the middle school hierarchy, his size means that he is less ‘attractive’ and popular than those boys with height and muscle, and the athletic ability that goes with it.
For the girl, her new body elevates her in the eyes of the boys, including those in older grades, and potentially exposes her to undue pressures that younger-looking peers will not face until high school.
Physically, she looks older; emotionally, she is likely her emotional age, or younger; while the boy’s physical immaturity may lag behind his emotional age.
And there are likely 20 others just like them in the classroom, developing at nature’s pace!
Cognitively, the same factors are in play.
Children that were largely moving at the same pace during the early elementary years, suddenly find their ability to learn diverge.
Some early adolescents will be ready for geometry; others will not. Some will be ready to learn a foreign language; others will not. Some, especially boys, will be behind in writing and reading skills.
They will catch up with each other, but not until their junior year in high school.
Early adolescence is chiefly about moving from an emotional dependence on the family unit to a greater independence that sees the child take on greater and greater responsibility over time, until he/she is ready to to create his/her own family.
It is about the child finding and developing his/her new identity, and it generally takes a lot of trial and error.
The great irony and frustration is that this often means the parents acting as the safety net to ensure that the mistakes during this period of trial and error are never too serious.
So, what is a poor parent to do?
Love the child you have; he was once the apple of your eye, and he will be so again, one day. She was once your shadow; she will return to find you again; with time.
2. Adolescence is not all bleak, and there is much to enjoy as your child navigates the
constantly shifting world he/she now occupies.
3. Decide where you wish to spend your money: on inviting different friends around for pizza night, and keep a close eye on their changing worlds that way; or on counseling
to try to better understand why your child seems so unhappy.
4. This is not a time to step back from your child’s world, but to step forward in a different way than before. You cannot lead and require; your job is to listen and coach.
5. Your male child only needs to have one friend to be happy; for your girl child, it is
much more complex, and the BFF can ice her out for seemingly no reason, and with
It is much better to be a girl ‘floater’, moving between different girl groups, without being dependent on any.
6. Ensure your child has an interest that belongs just to him/her, and that has nothing to
do with school friends; having a life beyond school is really important.
Early adolescence is the best of times and the worst of times, but no matter how hard it is for you, it is much, much harder for your child going through it.
It does end and when it does, if you have done your part properly, you will find your child, now a young adult, returning to the family fold with a greater confidence and sense of appreciation for your parenting.