How to connect with your tween
As your child teeters between childhood and teendom, you might feel like they’re starting to slip away one day only to have them run to you for comfort the next. Here’s how to weather the tween storm…
The tween years – which lie approximately between the ages of 9 and 12 – can be a strange and confusing time for children and parents alike. One minute your child wants to cuddle up with you on the couch, and the next they’re slamming their bedroom door in your face.
You may also be surprised to find that you feel hot-and-cold toward your tween. You desperately want to connect with them, but their moodiness and unpredictability sometimes make you want to withdraw to protect yourself. While these feelings are completely normal, it’s important that you keep trying to stay close to your child. Even though they show it in funny ways sometimes, they need and crave connectedness with their family. Here are eight ways to make it happen…
1. Create small moments of connection
“The busyness of life can make it harder to connect with tweens than younger children,” says Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, psychologist, parenting expert and author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential. “They have afterschool activities, homework, and get-togethers with friends that can crowd out time with parents. But spending time with your tween is still very important, so look for small moments of connection.
“When you’re first reunited after school or work, mealtimes and bedtime can be good opportunities for giving your tween your full attention. Many parents notice that driving can be a good time to chat – as long as your tween isn’t on her phone.”
2. Adapt your parenting style
While young children respond well to rules and enjoy having all their problems solved by their parents, tweens’ needs are very different. If you’re too heavy-handed with the discipline or you try to control all their decisions, they’re likely to fight back or shut you out. At this age, what your child needs most is for you to listen. Resist the urge to solve every problem they share with you. Unless it’s a situation that needs adult intervention, listen carefully and let them know that you’re there if they want to talk about it again or need your help.
3. Keep showing your affection
Your tween might start to shrug off your hugs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want or need your affection anymore. The truth is that they probably need it more than ever to help them feel secure during this period of change and uncertainty. But respect your child’s boundaries by laying off the showy displays of affection in front of their friends if it embarrasses them. Save the hugs, kisses and “I wuv yous” for home, and show your love in more reserved ways when you’re in public. Try giving a thumbs-up, offering a big smile and wave, or saying, “Way to go, you were great!” after a game or performance.
4. Give them some space
When your child starts to demand more independence, your instinct might be to pull them in closer to protect them. But just like teenagers, tweens are likely to stage a revolt if you don’t give them age-appropriate doses of freedom. You may choose to let them close their bedroom door for an hour of private time each day or allow them to stay home alone after school until you get back from work (if they’re old enough). If you give them an inch, they’re less likely to want to take a mile.
5. Take them on dates
“Dates” are great opportunities to break out of your routine and reconnect with your tween. A date can be as simple as going out for ice cream, seeing a movie or walking the dog. Ask your child how school is going, whether that group of boys is still bullying some of the kids at school, and whether their teacher still sneezes six times in a row every time. These special moments will go a long way in strengthening your bond.
6. Talk about sex, relationships and becoming a teen
The approach of adolescence can be a scary time for many tweens – especially girls. “One study found that tween boys looked forward to adolescence and the strength, power, independence and prestige they would develop,” says parenting expert Dr. Laura Markham on her website. “Tween girls, on the other hand, dreaded adolescence, fearing menstruation, their new vulnerability to men, and the pressure to be sexy and attractive.”
You can help ease your child’s fears by talking to her openly about them. “Your daughter is hungry for information about love and sex,” says Dr. Markham. “Talking about it won’t make her rush out and do it. In fact, research shows that the opposite is true.”
7. Nurture and show interest in their passions
Whether it’s drawing, math club or baseball, encourage your tween to follow their passion. Not only can it help build their self-confidence, teach them to be resilient and make them less likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors, but it also presents you with a wonderful opportunity to connect with them. Attend as many games or performances as you can, praise their successes, sympathize with their setbacks, and encourage them to keep trying.
8. Limit screen time
Screens are irresistible to most tweens. While tween boys are often attracted to addictive video games like Minecraft, tween girls are more likely to use social media to chat with their friends. But research shows that too much screen time is detrimental to children’s cognitive and emotional development, so it’s wise to enforce reasonable limits. For example, they could be allowed to use their devices or watch TV for half an hour each evening after their homework is done. When the time is up, all devices need to be placed in a common area until the next morning (that includes yours too!). Forcing them to disconnect from their screens will help them stay connected to you.