Raising Tweens: Books for Tweens and Their Parents
Content Guidance: This post contains images of the male and female body, and sexual intercourse (all taken from the books I am recommending). Sharing in case you have a child peering over your shoulder and would rather not have them see images like this at this stage.
My daughter has recently turned 10. She is divine in every way, but I definitely feel like I am entering unchartered parenting territory as she transitions into the tween years. I learned how to mother an infant through instinct, but have a wealth of professional experience with the 2-10 years age bracket. Parenting a child age 10 years+ is very much out of my comfort zone, so as well as learning on the job, I am turning to evidence based research, just as I have done for every other phase of my parenting journey.
Today's blog post includes recommendations for books that I have read (or am currently reading) with my daughter to help her prepare for the physical and emotional changes she will be going through over the coming years. It may be that your child can confidently read these books independently. I am intentionally choosing to read these aloud with my daughter, so that she has a chance to ask any questions, and so that I can add personal stories and examples to bring some of the content alive for her. She has access to these books, so she can revisit them if she wants or needs to. I am also sharing the books that I have been reading to help me understand and support her on her journey.
Usborne Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers About Growing Up
The recommended reading age for this book is 7-11 years, but I'd personally say that it was more suitable for the 5-8 year age bracket in terms of content and style. This is because I'm keen to have these important conversations with my daughter long before she experiences any changes herself, and before she discusses things 'in the playground' with her peers. Bean was gifted this book at 8.5 years, and having already covered the topics included as they came about in general conversation, I'd say that she was probably at the upper age limit for it.
Having said that, she did enjoy the opportunity to snuggle up with her Mama and have an uninterrupted, dedicated reading session on topics that are of great interest and relevance to her. She had this beautiful sense of pride about the changes coming after reading this book together. Each double page spread has a variety of lift-the-flap questions, with the answers underneath. The information presented is basic and factual, but I think it makes a great introduction for young children and can be a useful starting point for further conversation.
A small point worthy of noting is that, on the cover, the question 'Where do babies come from?' is presented, but there is no answer inside the book. If you haven't covered that with your child yet and were hoping for support, or if your child is curious and looking for answers, then you may be left feeling disappointed.
Making a Baby: An Inclusive Guide to How Every Family Begins
This book is newly published this year. We have it out on loan from our library and it is excellent. This Amazon review sums it up perfectly:
'This is a diverse, inclusive and richly informative, gem of a book. It details the biological logistics of how a baby is made while outlining the various social and personal situations a baby may be brought into. This is all done in a sensitive and inclusive way while maintaining appropriate terminology without using too much jargon. I love that IVF, adoption and same sex families are included, it equips children with the knowledge to have open and accepting minds, thus encouraging kindness and empathy. A basic introduction to sex is provided and, most importantly, it’s discussed as a way to show love and that having sex doesn’t always mean a couple wish to make a baby. A touching detail in this book is the gentle and compassionate information about miscarriage and prematurity. I really don’t think this book could be any more inclusive or considerate. A sensitive account of gender is given towards the end of the book and it even informs the reader that some people have operations to make the outside of their body better fit the way they feel on the inside. The message that every type of family is equal and loving is reinforced throughout and is the reoccurring and reinforced message in this perfect introduction to reproduction'.
The recommended reading age is 6-10, which I'd have to agree with. It's not too information heavy, nor does it go into too much detail. At the end of the book there is a page of illustrations of different types of families, which Bean used to demonstrate her understanding of what we had read. For each family we discussed whether it was sex, sperm or egg donation, IUI, IVF, surrogacy or adoption that had helped them grow their family.
As you can see from the image above, it does include a picture of love making with the penis inside the vagina. I wasn't prepared for that when reading it with my daughter (although was obviously not surprised either), but it wasn't an issue for us because we had already talked about it. Bean was interested (and a bit disgusted) in the image, but she didn't dwell on it. I'm sharing here so that you are not taken aback when you come across it. None of the other books for children mentioned here include an image like this (there's a similar image in the Usborne Facts of Life Growing Up book, but it's more scientific/anatomical).
The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls
This book has been written for girls, aged 8-10 years. I bought it because my daughter is an American Girl fan, but also because I was looking for a book that covers more than just puberty facts. I wanted a book that would support her in an age appropriate way with personal hygiene, nutrition, fitness etc. My review of this book is mixed, and we are yet to read it all, but these are my initial thoughts.
I like the concept of the child taking over responsibility for the care of her own body from the parent. After reading the chapter on nutrition, Bean immediately wanted to make changes to her diet that would benefit her health. She's also taken charge of washing her body with soap in the bath. There is a wide range of topics covered, but it does not cover sex or relationships at all.
My main issue with the content is that there are assumptions made about what young girls might feel embarrassed or ashamed about, mostly to do with appearance (none of which are currently a concern for my preteen, but I could imagine them becoming concerns if she reads about them). There's a whole page on how to shave your legs, for example. Thankfully, because I am reading the book aloud to my daughter, I can choose to skip some bits or I can take the opportunity to open up a discussion. It's American too, so there are understandably a fair amount of Americanisms.
Overall, my opinion is that it is quite dated (it was first published in 1998, and hasn't been updated since) so doesn't reflect our current generation of inspiring young people.
The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls
Shortly after ordering the first in the series, I found this book in the charity shop. This one has been written for girls, aged 10 years +. We haven't read it yet, but my first impressions are that it is very similar to the first, but with more information relevant to the next phase of growing and changing. I like that it includes information on how to check your breasts and how to insert a tampon (all useful). If anything, there is less emphasis on appearance in this book, with more of a focus on the practicalities of a changing body, feelings and relationships.
We'll be reading both books, and then they will go on Bean's book shelf so that she can revisit them. I don't think that the content is so poor that I feel the need to censor them. After all, she may want to shave her legs at some point, and I'd rather that she has the information at hand that she needs. If I felt uncomfortable talking to my child about the topics included, and was intending for her to learn everything she needs to know from a book, then I'd be inclined to skip these and look for something more suitable.
Usborne Facts of Life Growing Up: All About Adolescence, Body Changes and Sex
This book was a charity shop find, and is one that I've had stashed for some time. I pulled it out especially for this blog post, but on closer inspection I realise that it isn't suitable for tweens. I couldn't find a recommended reading age, but it is definitely too advanced for my daughter at age 10 years in terms of content and the density of information presented. In true Usborne style, it is carefully laid out, with relevant illustrations and graphics. It covers hormones, a detailed look at both male and female genitalia, sex, contraception, STI's and drugs. It doesn't appear to be specifically aimed at girls or boys, so would be suitable for both. I'll be putting this one away for a few years I think.
Usborne What's Happening to Me? (Girls Edition)
This book was also a charity shop find and is much more suitable for the 8-13 age bracket. It is also available in a Boys Edition and I think there is value in reading both. The girls version has a couple of pages at the end that covers boys bodies and changes, so I expect the boys to have the same. It covers all the basics, but doesn't go into too much detail.
As with all of the books mentioned so far, the focus is very much on the physical changes to expect and less so on the emotional. I'm still on the lookout for a book for preteens that covers feelings and relationships in greater depth, something which all those recommended here are sorely lacking. We've been reading Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul, which is a collection of real life stories written by and for children from 9-13 years. We've both been enjoying it, and it covers a wide range of topics such as making and losing friends, developing new feelings, dealing with family issues etc. If you know of any more, please pm me!
Re: sex, there are two short paragraphs that describe the process, but no illustrations (just the sperm meeting the egg). There is no mention of pleasure, only purpose (to make a baby).
The Breast Book: A Puberty Guide with a Difference - it's the When, Why and How of Breasts
This book came recommended by the lovely Adele @adelejk and it is one that we have both really enjoyed. It's so refreshing to read a book that celebrates breasts. Breasts are worthy of celebration! I particularly enjoyed reading about breastfeeding and reminiscing with Bean about our journey, sharing stories and marvelling at how amazing breastfeeding is for supporting immunity and wellbeing. Bean especially enjoyed all the personal stories shared in this book (although I found them a tad repetitive - my only criticism). After reading this book, Bean glowed with excitement at the prospect of her body changing. Breasts are often the first and most obvious outer sign of womanhood, and most books on puberty barely mention them. This book is a must read for all young girls going through their 'baggy jumper' phase, but really this is a book for everyone. Recommended from 10 years+, this will be one that we revisit over the years.
A follower on Instagram asked, 'Is it suitable to read to preteen boys?' and I would wholeheartedly say yes. If we want future generations of men to value and respect how amazing our breasts are, then we need to teach them!
10 Things Girls Need Most to Grow up Strong and Free
I'm an enormous fan of Steve Biddulph. I went to a lecture of his when Bean was a baby and everything he said made so much sense to me. He has a wonderful way with words, and shares his research findings through powerful stories and reflection prompts. In this book he shares what he believes to be the 10 most important things girls need to grow up strong and free, through five key stages:
Birth - 2 years, is she loved and secure?
2-5 years, does she feel confident and encouraged to explore the world and enjoy it?
5-10 years, has she got the skills to make friends, have fun and get along with people in general?
10-14 years, who is she, as a unique person? What are her values and beliefs?
And, finally, 14-18 years, is she prepared and trained, practically, to enter adult life?
This book is a little different to his others, as it has been designed to be interactive, encouraging you to think about your own childhood experiences and about how everything he says relates to your own children. These past few weeks I have been re-reading the sections on supporting girls from 10-14 years, and thinking carefully about the things that I can do to ensure my daughter's needs are met. There is great emphasis on the importance of a loving and respectful relationship with a father figure, as well as the role that supporting 'aunties' can play, in the lives of young girls of this age. The main focus though is on helping our daughters to find their unique spark, something I feel well placed to help my daughter discover. This book is an absolute gem, and is one that I revisit regularly. His books, Raising Girls and Raising Boys, are also both worth reading.
Between: A Guide for Parents of Eight- to Thirteen-Year-Olds
This book is newly published this year, and like all of Sarah Ockwell-Smith's books, it is well researched and easy to read. We have it out on loan from our library, but I'll be ordering the paperback as soon as I have to return it, as it is one that I am sure I will want to return to regularly over the coming years. It is the only book that I know of that is written specifically for parents of tweens.
The first chapter, on tween biology, emphasises that it isn't merely hormones that change the behaviour of children at this age (a common misconception, and one that is commonly presented to children as the reason that they feel the way they do at this age). Reading about the biological changes that take place, and about how our expectations for this age group are often too high, has helped me to empathise and understand my daughter. I found the chapter on what tweens really want and need a bit heart breaking to read, as they are often so misunderstood. It made me want to insist that every parent of a tween read it.
This book is packed with practical tips, as well as support and advice on how to manage tricky tween 'behaviours'. For me, striking the balance between protecting my daughter and allowing her the independence she is desperately seeking feels challenging. I'm reading every sentence with intense interest and concentration, as it all feels so relevant to where we are at right now. I respect and value the gentle approach presented here. It fits with our family values and I feel like I have Sarah Ockwell-Smith in my pocket, supporting us on our way.
I've also had Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood out on loan from the library. I read the first couple of chapters before I had to return it, but I was gripped. It's recommended for parents of girls from 11 years, so I will add it to my reading list for next year.
I hope you have found something here of value to you on your tween parenting journey. Do reach out if there is anything else I can help you with.