Emotions of a 10-year-old

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 11, 2011 06:00 AM

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My 10-year-old daughter is very emotional over just about everything. She has a 3-year-old sister and they are constantly at each other more than I thought they would be since there's a 7 1/2-year age difference. My older daughter doesn't understand why the rules on behavior are different for each of them. She seems to think that I'm not disciplining the 3-year-old as I am her, and that I'm playing favorites. How can I help her not feel this way?

From: Academy, Stoughton

Hello Academy,

At about this age, there are wiring changes going on in your daughter's brain, part of the pre-puberty package (I know -- at this age? Yep) which can make her seem unpredictable, emotional and just plain hard to understand. Does it seem like she feels emotions more intensely than before? Does it seem like she's almost looking for a fight? For something to pin her moodiness on?

A younger sister is the perfect target! Just at a time when a 10-year-old is starting to care about wanting a little privacy, there's this annoying little sister who has no boundaries. At a time when peer relationships suddenly matter more, this annoying little sister can be a source of embarrassment. C'mon, mom, can't you do something?

What you can do is remind her that when she was 3 years-old, she got the same kind of attention and discipline that her sister gets. You can also listen patiently, offer sympathy and, now and then, a touch of reality: "You know, sometimes 3-year-olds can be annoying. I agree. Sometimes they can be really cute, too....."

Part of what's going on for her may be that, one day, she wishes she was still a little girl without any responsibilities and pressures, like her sister, and the next day (next hour?), she wants to be a teenager. She can't identify or label this range of emotions any more than she can predict them, and it's not important that she does. Instead, whenever possible, acknowledge to her the advantages of being 10 -- that she has privileges she didn't used to have, like staying up late, or watching movies a preschooler can't see -- and show your respect for her new-found maturity whenever you see it: "I'm really impressed by how well you ......."

I know I've mentioned "New Moon Magazine for Girls" before, this issue has articles that could jump start age-appropriate discussions. Some good books: "The Roller Coaster Years;" "Girlology."

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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3 comments so far...
  1. I think Barbara's suggestions are great, especially if this behavior has just recently cropped up, but may I offer another perspective.

    There's a 7 year age difference between my kids, too. And I also thought, oh, it'll be great, because with that difference, they will never fight. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Wrong!

    For a while, I was astounded -- what could they find to fight over? Well, I'll tell ya: "Don't touch my stuff!!" "Don't copy me!!" "Shhhh! Stop talking to me!" They just annoy each other on occasion -- okay, the occasions are daily. The younger one gets upset because the older one ignores her. The older one gets upset because the younger one gets into his things and sometimes does do the annoying copying.

    Face it, yes three-year-olds are cute, but they're a lot more cute to their parents than to others -- including siblings. And ten-year-olds can be polite and compassionate, but not so much when their space is being invaded and they are always the one who has to understand the limitations of their little sister -- it can seem like a one-way-street for the older sibling, for sure.

    The one thing I can tell you is that, at least in my case, it does get easier. As your little one gets older, she'll start to understand some of the rules and she'll require a little less of your attention as well. That will be easier on your older daughter. And I think when your youngest is a little older, there will be more games that she can play with her sister, and more activities they can do together.

    The only other suggestion I have is to have some special activity that you share alone with your oldest. For example, I take mine out to breakfast maybe once a month, just the two of us -- it's a special thing that is his alone -- a privilege of age, if you will. If you can add in some activities that your oldest gets to do with you because she's the oldest -- manicures, perhaps, or maybe a Zumba class -- she may see that each age has its own perks.

    Posted by SandyEE March 11, 11 10:01 AM
  1. I've heard of spending one-on-one time with the older one - the "privilege of age" - as commenter SandyEE puts it and heard that it works well.

    As an observer of families, though, I think if the younger one is also the "baby of the family", that is, you don't expect to have more children, you may actually be letting the little one get away with more than she should... because she's the baby of the family.

    Posted by Favorite Auntie March 12, 11 09:47 AM
  1. I have a eleven y.o. girl and five y.o. girl. My oldest is always complaining because my little one has fewer jobs around the house, the discipline is different and so on. When it comes to her perception of fairness, she can be emotional, irrational and sometimes downright explosive. I have addressed this by offering to treat her and her sister EXACTLY the same. That means no sleepovers, no school socials, more supervision, earlier bed time, fewer choices, no earning cash for being the neighbors' mother's helper, no allowance, no week with her aunt in the summer, no trips to the mall to choose own clothes, etc.... The list is quite extensive because she is a good kid and I have been able to give her quite a few freedoms. When faced with losing those freedoms, she generally drops the arguments and silliness, at least for awhile.

    Posted by tracy March 12, 11 10:07 PM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. I think Barbara's suggestions are great, especially if this behavior has just recently cropped up, but may I offer another perspective.

    There's a 7 year age difference between my kids, too. And I also thought, oh, it'll be great, because with that difference, they will never fight. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Wrong!

    For a while, I was astounded -- what could they find to fight over? Well, I'll tell ya: "Don't touch my stuff!!" "Don't copy me!!" "Shhhh! Stop talking to me!" They just annoy each other on occasion -- okay, the occasions are daily. The younger one gets upset because the older one ignores her. The older one gets upset because the younger one gets into his things and sometimes does do the annoying copying.

    Face it, yes three-year-olds are cute, but they're a lot more cute to their parents than to others -- including siblings. And ten-year-olds can be polite and compassionate, but not so much when their space is being invaded and they are always the one who has to understand the limitations of their little sister -- it can seem like a one-way-street for the older sibling, for sure.

    The one thing I can tell you is that, at least in my case, it does get easier. As your little one gets older, she'll start to understand some of the rules and she'll require a little less of your attention as well. That will be easier on your older daughter. And I think when your youngest is a little older, there will be more games that she can play with her sister, and more activities they can do together.

    The only other suggestion I have is to have some special activity that you share alone with your oldest. For example, I take mine out to breakfast maybe once a month, just the two of us -- it's a special thing that is his alone -- a privilege of age, if you will. If you can add in some activities that your oldest gets to do with you because she's the oldest -- manicures, perhaps, or maybe a Zumba class -- she may see that each age has its own perks.

    Posted by SandyEE March 11, 11 10:01 AM
  1. I've heard of spending one-on-one time with the older one - the "privilege of age" - as commenter SandyEE puts it and heard that it works well.

    As an observer of families, though, I think if the younger one is also the "baby of the family", that is, you don't expect to have more children, you may actually be letting the little one get away with more than she should... because she's the baby of the family.

    Posted by Favorite Auntie March 12, 11 09:47 AM
  1. I have a eleven y.o. girl and five y.o. girl. My oldest is always complaining because my little one has fewer jobs around the house, the discipline is different and so on. When it comes to her perception of fairness, she can be emotional, irrational and sometimes downright explosive. I have addressed this by offering to treat her and her sister EXACTLY the same. That means no sleepovers, no school socials, more supervision, earlier bed time, fewer choices, no earning cash for being the neighbors' mother's helper, no allowance, no week with her aunt in the summer, no trips to the mall to choose own clothes, etc.... The list is quite extensive because she is a good kid and I have been able to give her quite a few freedoms. When faced with losing those freedoms, she generally drops the arguments and silliness, at least for awhile.

    Posted by tracy March 12, 11 10:07 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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