In the course of an hour, your kid has crawled onto your lap for a snuggle, rolled her eyes and sighed at the last three things you've said, played dress-up with her dolls, and tried to convince you that it's okay for her to start wearing mascara. Confused? She is too. It may seem like just yesterday that she was taking off the training wheels, losing her first tooth, and learning her ABCs, but in today's warp-speed world she's somehow teetering on the cusp of her 'tween years.
The term 'tween used to mean kids just shy of their actual teens -- that is, 10- to 12-year-olds. But these days, children as young as 7 or 8 are being lured into the 'tween mind-set. Sure, they're still drawn to more age-appropriate American Girl dolls and Zhu Zhu Pets, but they're also getting barraged with suggestions that there are way hipper, cooler, older things to explore -- like cell phones, celebrity-inspired fashions, American Idol, PG-13 movies, and makeup or spa parties.
Stuck somewhere between childhood and adolescence, today's grade-schoolers are finding themselves in the throes of a troubling identity crisis. "Our culture is increasingly putting pressure on children at younger and younger ages to act more like little teenagers," says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, M.D., author of Raising Kids With Character. And while the concept of being all grown up may be somewhat appealing to your child, chances are he'd really rather play tag or cavort on the playground, at least for a few more years. Though you may not be able to completely prevent this premature shrinking of childhood, you certainly have the power to put on the brakes and slow it down. Here are some easy ways to better understand -- and guide -- your changing child.