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Parenting a Tween Daughter: What She Needs Most

Parent of a Tween Girl!

I’ve recently entered a new phase in mum-life. Becoming the parent of my very own tween daughter! Of course I’ve been there once upon a time myself. Being a tween that is. But being on the ‘other side’ brings a whole new perspective.

I have found myself reflecting A LOT on what life was like for me as a teenager, which is really where I see my daughter at developmentally in so many ways. I recall going through some of the same issues my daughter is facing at 11, as I did when I was 14. Either that means I was a late bloomer, or times are definitely changing! I’m pretty sure it’s the latter!

My gorgeous tween girl reminds me of myself during that tender stage in more ways than one. That’s encouraging and frightening all at the same time. There’s an exterior of independence and an attitude of “I’ve got this”, BUT there’s also the struggle of navigating and adapting to the many changes taking place – internally and externally. She is sometimes in denial. At other times accepting and embracing.

As her mum I see a little girl with a young woman inside struggling to break free. On the flip-side is a developing young woman who simply wants to be a little girl. So how do we as parents of tween daughters navigate the fragility and complexity of this season with our girls?

The Gold

It’s here I want to share some of the GOLDEN gems of wisdom I’ve had imparted to me by other women, mothers in my village. Honestly, I’m so grateful for these women in my world. And without whose wisdom I’d feel very stuck and defeated as a mum at times. Many of whom have gone before me, both recently and historically in the wild adventure of motherhood.

So here are 5 golden gems for you from my experience as a mum of a tween girl (also verified by those mum-heroes who’ve gone before me) that may help you on your journey too.

The Foundation

Naturally this journey is a work in progress. Gosh! Isn’t every aspect of parenting! And life too for that matter! There are so many things to learn and navigate along the way. Many of which I’m not ashamed to say, I’ve messed up more than once. I’m sharing, not from a place of having it perfected, but from one imperfect mum who wants the best for her tween girl to another. Just like my daughter, I am also a work in progress.

At the core of this however THE most foundational lesson I’ve learned to date is to make my interactions with my tween daughter about this one thing:

Staying CONNECTED at a heart level

Actually this is my parenting philosophy period. If there’s no genuine heart connection with our tween girl, then the rest of these gems really won’t carry much weight at all. You’ll get no respect from her if she doesn’t feel connected to you.

This one can be tough. Especially when you’re tempted to focus mostly on discipline over relationship. Let’s say this one has been quite the learning curve for me. I’m not talking about ignoring disrespectful behaviour. No way! It’s your approach to her disrespectful behaviour that is most important.

The most important message from me to my tween daughter is this: “YOU ARE ENOUGH EXACTLY AS YOU ARE!”

Glenda O’Neill

Above all, don’t let her push you away. She still needs you, she just doesn’t want to acknowledge it. Find every opportunity to connect with your tween daughter. Hug her in the morning, and before she goes to bed. Make the most of bedtime by laying down beside her to chat about her day. This is often when our girls are less distracted, and most willing to bare their hearts to us.

Schedule Quality Time

This is my favourite. I’m naturally a ‘quality time’ kind of girl myself. So when my tween daughter suggests a mum-daughter date I’m usually up for it. However, I have had to learn to not always dictate the terms of what that quality time looks like. It’s important for us mummas to value the things our tween girl enjoys doing too. Again, if she feels connected to you, the respect will follow.

Another important point worth mentioning here is to never underestimate the power of ‘active listening’. That’s the counsellor coming out in me. But again, as a parent I’ve had to retrain myself to not always jump in and correct or give advice. Sometimes its okay, even necessary to just appreciate, enjoy and listen to her. Learn to ask good questions and empathise with her. Seriously, if these are not within your current skill set, make it your priority today to start learning how!

Nurture your tween daughter’s passions

I’m all for nurturing my tween daughter’s passions. If you’re looking for a bit of raw mamma honesty for me that’s been a little easier said than done. I love my daughter with all my heart. But some of her ‘passions’ have been really challenging for me to get excited about! Simply because they’ve not been things I’m particularly interested in or passionate about myself. So what then? Well, I’m taken back to that foundational point I first mentioned. Staying connected at a heart level. I made a decision that if that is truly my goal – to stay connected with her – then I will make it my business to learn more about her interests. Ask questions. Sit with her and engage in her interests at times.

Anything that is important to her becomes important to me. Because that’s what I choose. Not necessarily because it comes naturally. At this stage of her development anything that she’s passionate about becomes something of a safe place for her. It may take some time for her to figure out what she really enjoys. That’s okay. Do what you can to encourage her. Try different things. But don’t make her perform or do something for you. It’s important to let her to engage with her own passion, not performance for you or anyone else.

Tween girls often experience great anxiety about adolescence

This was something that took us by surprise with our tween daughter. She was always an easy going, nothing phased her kind of kid. Until she turned 10, then almost literally overnight something changed. And I’ve since learned after lots of conversations with my mum-heroes and through lots of reading etc that this is not an uncommon phenomena amongst tween girls.

As could be expected most tween girls don’t have the ability to put those anxieties into words. But they feel them. Those anxieties are real to them. Dreading adolescence. Fearing menstruation. Pressure from peers to look and act a certain way. Unsure about the physical changes taking place in her body.

Opening up sensitive conversations around these topics with our tween girls is so important. As her mum, I want, as much as possible, to be the one who has those ‘big’ conversations with her first. To allieviate the mystery and the angst surrounding what’s ahead for her. To let her know that my door is always open when she has any questions or wants to clarify anything she’s finding challenging.

Whether she lets you know it or not, she’ll be grateful that you’ve opened up those conversations. My daughter, despite her strong will to not want to have those conversations, now approaches me with all manner of different questions. It’s becoming more ‘normal’ for her to present her questions to me without it being super awkward for her.

Be prepared to right your wrongs

This next one is a biggie! Honestly, they’re all biggies, along with a whole lot more points that I don’t have time to mention here. These ones are really just the start.

Parenting at any time is a tough gig. No one, not one of us, does it perfectly. I can sure vouch for that. At least once a week (usually more) I’d find myself saying the wrong thing to my tween daughter causing her to explode in one way or another. Potentially having a very unhelpful outcome. Following these moments I’ve traditionally felt pretty awful and beat up on myself for not being a better mum. More often these day I chalk it up as a lesson learnt and use those ‘unhelpful moments’ as opportunities to get closer to my daughter.

Earlier this year as I was researching one of my favourite topics, Human Emotions, I came across the following analogy which I’ve since used frequently. It’s like when we’re on a flight and the attendants instruct us in the safety chat to put our own oxygen mask on first in the case of an emergency, before helping anyone else get theirs on. So it is with regulating our emotions. We need to do it first before we expect our tween daughter to do it, because they don’t have the maturity to do it. If our daughter’s behaviour becomes a trigger for us, that’s a sure sign we’ve got some work to do on US. Take responsibility, see it as an opportunity. And do what you’ve gotta do to work it through.

Our tween girls rely on us to act like grownups and model emotional ‘self-management’. If we walk away angry, our daughters feel wounded, misunderstood and alienated. This results in them attacking us, building up resentment and mistrust. This is where a rift develops in our relationship. And if we don’t respond quickly, it widens.

I’ve learnt that we, as parents, can rebuild the bridge if we’re willing to stop, breathe, apologise, pay attention and reconnect with our tween daughter. We have the chance to allow ourselves to use the day to day outbursts etc into opportunities to teach them lessons too. How to process their emotions. To repair emotional rifts. How to problem solve. But most of all it teaches our girls that they can trust us. All resulting in a stronger relationship.

The goal in parenting your tween daughter

As our tween girls approach adolescence they need more than ever for us to watch over them. Adolescence isn’t about letting go. It’s about hanging on during a very bumpy ride.

Ron Taffel

Mums of tween and teen girls, let’s not forget the girls we used to be. What we needed and did or didn’t receive, and how you can give the same to your tween daughter.

I highly recommend the work of Steve Biddulph, Australian psychologist and one of the world’s leading parent educators for further reading on what it is that your girls really need most. ‘10 Things Girls Need Most’ and ‘Raising Girls’ are must-haves in every parent‘s resource library. Visit to find his enlightening and valuable resources.

My goal in this parenting journey is to make deposits on a future I’m dreaming of – one where all of the children I’m raising become young adults who choose relationship with me. I’m not interested in striving for perfection. It simply isn’t possible. However, I’m committed more than ever to use every moment, every challenge to grow my relationship with my tween daughter so she knows without a doubt she is loved beyond measure regardless of the imperfections her mother possesses.

Glenda O'Neill

Glenda is the founder and director of Novo Counselling, a private counselling practice situated in the beautiful North East Region of Victoria, Australia. She is especially passionate about helping women find release from the pain and baggage of their past as she journeys with them through life's challenges, toward emotional clarity and freedom. Marriage and Relationship counselling is also part of her skillset. In addition to her one-one-one work, Glenda leads an online community ‘The Empowered Mind’ where she is passionate about educating and inspiring women to bring life and growth to their inner world, as they grow stronger, more empowered minds. Her online presence continues to expand with her online consults and programs. Glenda is also a qualified teacher with over 23 years spent in education, mumma of three wonderful miracles, wife to one amazing husband, lover of life and proud Aussie.

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