Tweens and Their Mothers

Mothers serve as powerful role models for their daughters. Even if girls become hostile and rebel, they are likely to form adult love relationships that are similar to the ones their mothers had and to struggle with similar life dilemmas.

Most girls start the tween years as mamas' girls. Even if a young girl regularly back-talks, drops hints about wanting to be adopted out, and seems much more amenable to taking direction from her father, her mother is likely to be featured in her essay entitled “The Person I Most Admire.” As your tween grows older, she will probably begin pulling away from physical contact, which may reflect her growing awkwardness with her rapidly developing body and her desire to have more control over physical contact, as well as to establish herself as a separate person.

You are bound to make some mistakes as you respond to the push/pull of “You don't love me/you never hug me any more” and “Don't touch me/get away.” If your daughter reacts negatively to a hug, do what you would want someone outside of the family to do if they physically overwhelmed her: back off and apologize!

American customs dictate that physical displays of affection in public are only acceptable between adults and young children on the one hand, and between love-smitten couples on the other. If your daughter doesn't learn this social rule on her own, her friends will teach her by teasing her mightily if they see her being openly affectionate toward you. She may resist when you try to pull her onto your lap, not take kindly to having you tousle her hair, and be quite indignant if you reach over to wipe a mustard smear from her chin. She may be especially adamant about not wanting kisses or hugs when you drop her off at school for fear her friends might see.

Loving Touches

Nevertheless, if your relationship is healthy, your young tween will still cuddle up for a story, leap onto your lap at unexpected moments, and exchange back rubs. She will undoubtedly be grateful to have you put your arm around her when she is crying and may let you wipe away her tears, too, when she is in need of comfort.

Hugs can comfort and communicate “I love you” better than words, and even though your daughter is withdrawing from physical expressions of affection, no one ever outgrows the need to be touched. Withholding physical affection can cause her to doubt the attractiveness of her changing body. Squelch your urge to tell the seventy-five-pound daughter who has leaped into your lap that she's too big to do that; don't tell her to grow up and act her age.

As with every other point of discipline, telling your child what not to do doesn't teach her what she should do. Before your legs go numb, compliment her on the fact that she is getting so big, note that she's outgrowing your lap, and tell her that you and she need to find another, more comfortable position. Find a way she can be physically close, perhaps by cuddling up next to you with your arm around her shoulder. If she's squeezed you into an overbearing hug, tell her to be gentle with her old mother, but make sure she knows you are receptive to being physically close to her by adding, “Now that's the kind of hug I like” when she eases up.

Respect Her Wishes

Expect your daughter to become more protective of her personal space as she begins claiming her body as her own. It is important that she understand that she has the right to say “no” to touches from anyone at any time, so honor her wishes not to be touched. You can tell her that boys who truly care about her will respect her and not try to push her into having more physical contact than she is comfortable with. But if you become angry, indignant, hurt, disappointed, or feel rejected and pressure her when she says “no” to you, you are teaching her to put other people's feelings first and that it is wrong to try to protect herself from unwanted physical advances.

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