Social & emotional kids

Parenting through the social and emotional changes of our kids

I have a couple of teens in my house right now. I have counselled lots of teens before. I have read a lot of research about best practises, about behaviour, about changes to the brain as they develop, about hormones and physical changes and how they affect their behaviours and about how to keep connections strong during these sometimes tumultuous times.

For those of us that need some reminding of some of the changes that take place with our kids as they hit adolescence, I am going to summarise a few of these pre teen developments. Reminding ourselves of the changes our kids experience can be a really useful way of helping to get inside their heads, when we at times think it is only limited to the odd grunt, the rolled eyes or ‘too cool for school’ attitude. Not every child experiences them to the same extent. But for the parent grappling with the transition, here are a few ways you may be noticing a slight or a steep transformation.

 The social changes

Independence: it is natural for kids to start striving for independence and we need to foster and encourage this as a normal and healthy development. Sometimes however, with independence comes a feeling of not needing others. We need to be sure we don’t take this as a sign of them not needing us. We can give them space but be sure that they know we are readily available. Another by product of this growing desire for independence can be an increase chance of risk taking and decision making that isn’t always equally supported by an adequately developed brain. The reward and pleasure seeking part of the brain is still a little behind the good judgement part, and thus they still need our continued guidance and teaching.


A search for Identity: As they grow our kids will move from a person defined largely by what we have created to one that is more of their own making. They start seeking out who they really are and what they stand for as they begin to question beliefs, values, morals and right and wrong. Some of these quests for identity may involve fads, experimenting with different ideas, different people, and new ways of life. We need to learn which battles are the ones to pick here. Whilst getting involved in a religious cult or dabbling in drugs will no doubt be cause for concern and intervention, we need to pay a little less attention to the refusal to eat your home made casserole die to a new found vegetarianism or to a fashion statement you fail to see the appeal. This search for identity also leads them to a greater defining of their ‘tribe’. Their group of friends that help define them becomes all important.

 The emotional changes

 Sensitive and self conscious: the many physical and hormonal changes that take place with our kids can lead to a heightened sense of body issue awareness. Put this in the spotlight of selfies and constant comparisons to online images of ‘perfection’, and you have a recipe that can play havoc with an adolescents self esteem. We need to keep ensuring that their sense of self worth is nurtured with real life achievements and interactions to keep things in perspective.


Bulletproof and invincible: I remember as a teen jumping off a bungee without a care in the world or an ounce of thought to the risk involved. I would really struggle to do that jump today. Without the years of experience and gained wisdom, the adolescent makes many choices based far more on adrenalin than analysis. As the teenage brain is still undergoing the final (or not so final) touches to the workings of risk taking and consequences, the young teen will continue to push those boundaries. We need to make sure that the mistakes they make are the little ones, that they learn from them and that somewhere in their head a little voice remembers some to the teachings we tried to seep in to that place between the ears.


Express strong feelings: the changes bought about as they grow physically, as they search for identity, independence, as they take risks and as they seek out their place in the world can also be accompanied by an array of ‘strong’ and sometimes diverse moods and feelings. The sometimes unpredictable nature of their emotions often leads to arguments that don’t end up being overly rational from either child or parent. Whilst we can still demand respect and an adherence to family rules and values, we may need to cut them a little slack when it comes to the mood swings. I have found myself much better at navigating ‘situations’ by waiting for the mood to pass in order to have a more rational discussion that stands a much better chance of resolving an issue.

Whilst kids today are no different to kids of days gone by, and the changes they face are similar with each new generation, I do think many of these changes are happening earlier. It seems that many of the physical developments of puberty are happening much earlier, and thus it stands to reason that some of the emotional and social changes that accompany those developments will start earlier too.

Have you noticed any of these changes to your child? Do you think there are some behaviours that could be a result of these changes?

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Seana Smith

    Hi Martine,

    I’ve noticed all of them. My eldest has just turned 18, but he has in fact suffered less as a teen than his 15 year old brother. Mr18 has autism spectrum and hasn’t had the self esteem and peer pressure issues at all, and he still relies on us very heavily. Mr15 has rebelled a lot – but I do sympathise as I was a rebellious second child too who could not wait to be FREE. Lots of patience and calmness required.

  2. Sundra

    We’ve all gone through puberty, so we have some sense of how things felt during our time, I’m no expert, of course, but perhaps it helps parents better understand the mood swings by going back to the time when we were experiencing those anxieties, so we can respond to the shifts more emphatically. I have a 9-year-old and I am anticipating these changes coming soon. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Renee Wilson

    Great post, Martine! Have you by any chance written about emotional changes in younger kids around four and five? My daughter seems quite emotional and teary lately and other friends with kids the same age have spoken of their kids being more clingy lately. I would be interested if you’ve written anything on this. Thanks 🙂

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Thanks Renee, I haven’t written anything specifically on this age group but I will certainly look in to doing something. Generally around 4 or 5 our kids though are starting to understand emotions, consequences etc a lot more amd they are realising they don’t get to do the tantrum thing as readily as they did when they were 2 or 3. Now they are at kinder or school there are far more expectations on them to manage those emotions in other ways. Often they spend a good deal of energy trying to keep these under control around friends/teachers etc that once they get home or around mum or day they feel they can ‘let it out’. This may also mean they are more clingy as they need you close by to help sort through frustrations etc Generally speaking though if you keep offering reassurance without paying to much attention to the clingyness they should gradually be able to better manage their feelings.

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