Understanding the Itchy Tween Brain

Understanding the Itchy Tween Brain

I would love to write about the big things going on over here, but there is simply too much I am not ready to share, and too much floating in a sphere of unknowns. Suffice to say that nobody, NOBODY, outside of Mike and myself know the full extent of the chaos surrounding us at the moment. But the end of the month will bring his next MRIs, information on my own health concerns, and better information about what our lives will look like next year. And that’s all I can say about that.

Last week, one of my tweens got into a fight with her little sister. Typical, I know, but I’m really tired of this. My patience for just about all things is at an all-time low, and that includes sibling nonsense. I intervened and made all three children sit down for a TALK about FEELINGS and FIGHTING and whatnot. And what follows is as close a reconstruction as I can muster of how I managed to explain hormonal rage to a ten-year-old with minimal outbursts on any side.


Me: “I need you so stop shouting at your sister all the time.”

10yo: “But she’s being SO ANNOYING! ON PURPOSE!”

7yo: *fake crying* “She keeps saying I’m annoying and I’m not doing ANYTHING!”



Me: “EVERYBODY SHUT UP AND LISTEN! No crying, no shouting, stop huffing and shut your mouths! Look, I know you’re annoyed–”

7yo: *whines frustratedly*

Me: “And I know YOUR feelings are hurt. But I need you to understand what’s happening here. I need to explain something about puberty.”

10yos both stand up: “NOPE.”


All children: *scowl in disgruntled child faces*

Me: “Right. So you know how when you have a growth spurt sometimes your legs hurt? Because your bones are growing?”

10yo: “Yes! My legs hurt now!”

Me: “You are not allowed to have another growth spurt, we are running out of clothes. Anyway, your bones hurt because they’re growing. And when you start puberty- SIT DOWN RIGHT THIS SECOND AND LISTEN- your brain starts growing and changing faster than it has since you were practically a baby. Really. You’re getting smarter, and your brain is getting more complicated, and it also has growing pains.”

All three children: *stare with a variety of skeptical expressions*

Me: “Shut up. But the thing is, your brain doesn’t have nerve endings in it the way that your bones and your skin do. You can’t feel your brain growing new lumps and folds. But your brain doesn’t like it. It’s uncomfortable. It’s changing the structures in there, and it does not feel good. So, just like your bones, your brain kind of gets… itchy.”

10yo: *giggling* “Are you saying my brain is itchy?”

Me: “Yes.”

Other 10yo: *giggles* “Like it’s got mosquito bites?”

Me: “Yes! Exactly! Only instead of feeling like it’s an itch on your skin, your itchy brain gets angry, like your skin turns red and swollen. Instead of feeling itchy, it’s easily irritated, like when you have a stiff tag on your shirt. And because it’s irritated, it thinks EVERYTHING in the whole world, especially the things it knows really well, are first of all, embarrassing, and second of all, annoying.”

10yo, sagely: “You and Daddy are REALLY embarrassing.”

Me: “Yeah, sometimes we do that on purpose.”


Me: *shrugging* “Because we know you’ll be embarrassed no matter what we do, so we might as well make a good job of it. But as this keeps going on, you’ll get embarrassed no matter what. We’ll annoy and embarrass you just by breathing, or saying ‘Hello,’ or asking how school was.”

10yo: *folding arms and staring at the floor* “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Me: “Tough. So your brain will be all itchy, kind of like it is now but worse, and it will seem like yelling will make it feel better, just like it seems like scratching a mosquito bite would make it feel better. But does it feel better when you scratch a mosquito bite?”

10yo: “Yes.’

Other 10yo: “Well, for a bit.”

Me: “And then?”

10yo: “…and then it itches worse.”

Me: “Exactly. That’s what it’s like when you scream at people because your brain is itchy because of all the puberty hormones making your brain grow new brain parts.’

10yo: “I really don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Me: “We’re almost done. It will feel like the best idea ever to scream and yell and be mean, because your itchy brain wants you to, and the itchy brain makes you stupid. Sorry, but it’s true.”

7yo: “Because you said teenagers are stupid!”

Me: “Yup. (Author’s note: I do say this, because all teenagers do insane and stupid things and we’re frankly all lucky to survive.) But no matter how much you yell, I want you to remember that your brain is itchy, and I want you to remember one other thing, and this is the most important thing. No matter how much you yell, or how annoyed you are, or how embarrassed you are, I want you to always know that I KNOW it’s harder for you than for me. If you stand there screaming at me, saying mean, hurtful things, my feelings will be hurt, but I’ll know you’re having a harder time. Puberty is the hardest time of your life, almost always, and it sucks, and I can’t promise I won’t yell back or say mean things back or punish you for being a jerk if you’re a jerk, but I can promise I will know, I will always know, that your feelings are real and that you’re having a much harder time of things than me, and I will always try to remember that, too, and to be kind about it. Okay?”

10yo: *visibly relieved the conversation is winding down* “Okay.”

Other 10yo: “What makes your brain feel better when it’s itchy?”

Me: “I have no idea. Sometimes reading, sometimes writing, sometimes making art, sometimes running around or playing sports, sometimes talking to a friend who also has an itchy brain and thinks everything you think is annoying is annoying, too. Sometimes sleeping or eating, because your brain gets extra itchy if it’s hungry or tired. Sometimes nothing helps, and you just have to wait until it feels better.”

Other 10yo: “But sometimes scratching DOES make an itch feel better. Like when we scratch your back.”

Me: “Yeah, I guess that’s true. And every once in a very great while yelling DOES make your brain feel better, every once in a while you are absolutely right and you scream exactly the right devastating thing and then you storm to your room and you slam the door and play your music as loud as you can and you feel like a God.”

10yo: *laughing* “Really?”

Me: “Yup, really.”

Other 10yo: “How often does that happen?”

Me: “I think that happened to me… twice. And it was amazing. But just about every other time yelling just made me and my sisters angrier at each other, over and over again.”

10yo: “Were you mean to each other?”

Me: *biting my tongue and dreading the day I might actually have to answer that question* “You have no idea.”

10yo: “Were you mean to Grandmommy and Poppa?”

Me: “I’m pretty sure I wasn’t as mean to them as your aunts were, but, probably, yes.”

7yo: “Did your brain get itchy?”

Me: “All the time.”

Other 10yo: *dangerously perceptively* “What did you DO to each other?”

Me: “And now we’re done. Go watch ‘Brainchild’ or something.”


No way in Hell am I giving those monsters ideas.

But here’s hoping that heading into the itchy-brain years we have a frame of reference that will let us get through without murdering each other.



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Read about parenting older children here: The Joys of Being a Big Kid Mom

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