Connecting With Your Preteen

Staying connected as kids approach the teen years and become more independent may become a challenge for parents, but it’s as important as ever — if not more so now.

Your preteen may act as if your guidance isn’t welcome or needed, and even seem embarrassed by you at times. This is when kids start to confide more in peers and request their space and privacy — expect the bedroom door to be shut more often.

As hard as it might be to swallow these changes, try not to take them personally. They’re all signs of growing independence. The best way to weather them is through balance: allow growing room by expanding boundaries, but continue to enforce important house rules and family values. For example, a child who asks for more privacy might be allowed to earn the privilege getting a bedroom door lock by doing some household chores for a set amount of time.

You’re still a powerful influence — it’s just that your preteen might be more responsive to the example you set rather than the instructions you give. So practice what you’d like to preach; just preach it a little less for now.

What You Can Do

Small, simple things can reinforce connection. Make room in your schedule for special times, take advantage of the routines you already share, and show that you care.

Here are some tips:

Share ordinary time: Find little things that let you just hang out together. Even riding in the car is an opportunity to connect. When you’re driving, your preteen may be more inclined to mention a troubling issue. Since you’re focused on the road, he or she doesn’t have to make eye contact, which can ease any discomfort about opening up.

Stay involved: Stay involved in your preteen’s expanding pursuits. Getting involved gives you more time together and shared experiences. You don’t have to be the Scout leader, homeroom mom, or soccer coach to be involved. And your child may want to do more activities where you’re not in charge. That’s OK. Go to games and practices when you can; when you can’t, ask how things went and listen attentively.

Stay interested: Stay interested and curious about your preteen’s ideas, feelings, and experiences. If you listen to what he or she is saying, you’ll get a better sense of the guidance, perspective, and support needed. And responding in a nonjudgmental way means your child will be more likely to come to you anytime tough issues arise.

Shift your communication style: Your preteen’s newfound independence will probably lead to some important changes in communication. While a young child might appreciate you solving a problem with his friend by calling their mother, a preteen will find this solution hard to swallow. For many preteens, the point of discussing a life challenge with a parent is no longer about parent problem-solving; it’s about listening and support. You might feel the urge to solve every problem your preteen mentions (or call their teachers or friends to deal with it directly), but for small problems, remember that they might be looking for a place to vent and the support to figure it out on their own. When you hear about a problem that doesn’t need an adult solution, try saying something like, “That sounds really tough, I can see why it would make you angry. I’m here for you if you need anything or want to talk about it a little more.” If they want help, they’ll ask you for it. But your support, listening, and empathy will help them feel empowered to find solutions on their own.

Excerpted from “Connecting With Your Preteen” from KidsHealth. Read the full article online for more tips.

Source: KidsHealth | Connecting With Your Preteen, | © 1995-2024 The Nemours Foundation. Last revised July 2022.

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