Childcare author Sarah Ockwell-Smith tackles tweens in latest parenting guide
Acclaimed childcare author Sarah Ockwell-Smith is putting the spotlight on a notoriously challenging but often mysterious age group in her 11th book on parenting.
Between, which is released on March 11, is a handbook for parents of ‘tweenagers’ – children aged eight to 13. In it, the 44-year-old mother of four provides support and solutions for people struggling with their tweens’ behaviour and attitude.
Author of best-selling The Gentle Sleep Book and The Gentle Discipline Book, more than 250,000 copies of Sarah’s works have been sold in 20 languages.
The former Herts and Essex High School pupil has a background in psychology and clinical research, but in her latest book she is able to speak from a wealth of personal experience.
She is a mum to four teenagers: Violet, 13, Raff, 16, Flynn, 17, and Seb, 18, a University of Leeds student currently learning remotely from the family home in Saffron Walden as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sarah grew up in Thorley Park and attended Richard Whittington Primary School. At 21, she fell in love with Ian Smith after they met in the Harvest Moon pub in Friedberg Avenue, Bishop’s Stortford. They were married three years later at St James the Great in Thorley.
When Seb was born, Sarah experienced a “horrific” labour, so when she fell pregnant again she started exploring a broader range of support rather than the conventional National Childbirth Trust offerings.
She trained as a hypnobirthing teacher, became a doula, then started teaching post-natal classes and, based on clients’ recommendations, started a blog.
“It all happened really organically. I never sat down and thought ‘I want to write a parenting blog or a parenting book’,” she said.
“And the same was happening when I was doing post-natal classes – it happened purely as a response to demand. It was never in the plan, I just responded to what people were asking for.”
Sarah’s break came when she was asked by a publisher to review a parenting book on her blog, which she did. From there she had an opportunity to discuss her first book idea – stemming from the ‘authoritative’ parenting approach.
“It’s very evidence-based, steeped on the psychology and neuroscience,” she said.
“Basically it just means treating kids with respect. It’s just about having good boundaries, having good discipline but having a good connection and relationship with your children and being guided by the science and having realistic expectations about what they’re capable of at any stage.”
Recent research has highlighted that mothers of tweens are more depressed than those of babies, toddlers or teenagers, often because these years are difficult and support is virtually non-existent.
“I’ve come across three studies now where people have tried to assess what age bracket parents find the hardest raising,” she said. “Every single one of those studies, independently of each other, have found it’s eight to 13 years.
“So many parenting books are focused on toddlers, and once they hit four you’re kind of on your own.
“I was thinking ‘I’ve just gone through that age’ – my youngest is just 13, so I’ve literally just left it.”
Sarah says problems stem from the fact parents expect their tweens to think, feel and act in the same way that an adult would, but biologically they are incapable of this.
And what some categorise as a behavioural or character flaw is, in fact, normal tween behaviour and development.
“The thing I’ve gone over again and again in the book is this idea that as kids get older – if they’re sort of the same height as you, their feet get bigger, they start to smell, they’re not cute any more and they’re big – as a society we start thinking that we need to treat them more harshly,” said Sarah.
“We have these expectations because they effectively look like us and we start to think they should behave like us as well – like ‘You’re grown up now, you shouldn’t have this silly behaviour’.
“But if you look into the science of it all, the brain of a tween is more like that of a toddler than it is of an adult. The brain is not fully developed until the late 20s. So in the tween years it’s got 10 to 15 more years of developing to do. And it’s really immature.”
In her new book, Sarah hopes to help any parents confused about their children approaching puberty and considering the best ways to tackle common issues faced by today’s tweens, including friendship difficulties, starting secondary school, mental health, screen time and raising a tween in the era of ‘me too’, racism, homophobia, climate change anxiety and Covid-19.
“Between is the book I wish I had read when my children were tweens,” said Sarah.
“There are so few parenting books on the market targeted at this age range, something I’ve always found surprising considering this is the age bracket where parents struggle so much.”
To find out more about Between and Sarah’s 10 other parenting guides, visit sarahockwell-smith.com.