Your child is growing and things are changing. The dynamic at home shifts. Sometimes this feels wonderful. Like, when your child shows accomplishment mastering things he or she enjoys. But other times, the moodiness, rebuttals and their sense of dissatisfaction, with you and the world, can be frustrating and upsetting.
Where did that sweet baby go? The one that relied so much on you seems to have disappeared.
Except they haven't. In fact, your tween needs you just as much now as they ever did.
In this post we’ll be talking about why your tween really needs to feel your love and attention now, even if it looks just like the opposite. Fostering closeness as your child heads towards the teen years can protect and equip them for the life challenges to come. We share five ideas for raising happier tweens today, that will keep them close now and into their teens.
What Happens If/When We Feel Shut Out?
What is it that worries you most about your child now that he or she is getting older? It may be a growing sense of distance, or realising that strategies you have long used in your parenting appear no longer to work. It may be the arrival of moodiness, and attitude, or the signs they give that shows their new pressure to achieve or be thought of well by peers.
Your child also now has a growing sense of independence and probably isn’t too shy about showing it!
All of this signals the onset of the teen years. And most of us hear, from family, friends, and the media, that we are headed in for a rough ride during those years. Isn’t it there that the worry sets in?
After all of these year’s loving and nurturing our child, we naturally want to stay close and involved in their lives as they grow. They, however, seem to want to do all they can to shut us out.
And if we’re shut out, how can we influence what happens to them? How can we be sure they can handle all that the hardships the teenage years are known to throw at them? Whether that’s bullying, cyber or otherwise or the social and academic pressure to fit in, to do well, and succeed.
If we’re shut out, how can we help them build that much-needed resilience, that good judgment to think well even when the going gets tough for them and we aren’t there?
Because if that isn’t there, who knows what path they could venture down?
One Way To Protect Against Teen Pregnancy, Drugs, Drinking and Violence
Do you know that the one thing that most protects our teens from smoking and drug use, violence and pregnancy, and dropping out of school?
According to studies by the behavioural health non-profit ETR Associates, when a teen has a strong sense of connection to their parents, or an adult that can really be there and show that they care, they are more likely to navigate the rocky teenage years and emerge into young adulthood learning and thinking well. Your child moves on at 18, 19, 20 in good charge of their lives when they trust you – even if they feel that they don’t like you!
When ETR examined over 600 reputable studies on teens and their behavior, it found one overarching theme. Parent-child connectedness or, a strong sense of connection with a parent, was shown to be a kind of “super-protective factor” that guides kids through those teen years.
When young people sense that the adults looking over them love and trust them regardless of their mistakes or behavior, it results in a core base of vital connection that shields and protects.
Building a Backbone of Resilience
How does this look?
- Our children need to feel close enough to us that they trust us.
- They feel secure in our love for them.
- They trust us to parent without judgment, even if their own has proven misguided.
- They can believe that we think well of them even when they make mistakes.
- They know with certainty that we care.
- They feel us behind them, supporting them.
- They feel that they can let us know that they can tell us whenever they run into problems.
- That they have a safe space with us.
Connection is all about our children holding the feeling that they are loved, seen and protected which is the backbone of resilience. When that resilience is in place, your child can go through tough times and bounce back having learned something and ready to move on.
For that to happen they want to feel that you, as their parent, really has their back.
But how can all of that happen, if we are shut out? Begin when they are tweens. (Or earlier!)
Ways To Reach Your Tween
The key to creating this kind of connection is by getting in and building that core early. It goes without saying that we love our children unconditionally, but showing them that can be hard in the muddle of daily life. Raising children is incredibly frustrating and draining at times, especially so as they grow older, when they seem to resist our old tried and tested ways of getting close.
- They roll their eyes are your jokes.
- They get self-conscious about you when they are with friends
- They do not want to play chase or hide and go seek, and phones and games seem so much more alluring.
What’s a tired parent to do?
Five Ideas for Raising Happier Tweens
There are some ways that you can reach for your child, and offer connection in ways they can feel strongly. These five tools will help you parent consistently through the challenges and changes that come with raising tweens.
Offer One-On-One Time Regularly: One way to proactively build connection is simply by spending daily one on one time. You name it, time it, and then step back and let your child decide exactly what they want to do – even if they change their mind three minutes in!
Hand in Hand Parenting calls it Special Time, others call it Yes time. Whatever you decide on, it becomes a time where you devote your attention and your approval, so bring warmth, energy and interest. Naming this time distinguishes it, so your child can request moments of undisturbed time with you when he or she needs. As tweens, it might be playing cards, laughing at cat videos or kicking a ball around. Later, it might be talking about difficulties with friends, or annoyances over homework.
By then your child will have a backlog of good experiences and memories of Special Time, with trust and faith that you’ll listen without interruption.
To learn more about Special Time, download this chapter from our book.
Do Not Give Up Play – Think your tween is to old to play? No way! Sparking laughter and play with your tween strengthens your bond. Plus, regular fun and giggles also dissipates tension and worries, so the atmosphere at home feels lighter and more open. The best way to initiate play is to follow their lead. Look for the times you do get a smile or a giggle and follow that. (Often it’s you doing something that makes you look silly or incompetent – it gives them the other hand).
Set Limits in a Connecting Way – Many of us question whether limits and discipline will work as our children get older. Traditional methods that rely on shaming and punishment to accomplish obedience do get harder as a tween – and then a teen – pushes back. Feelings often escalate into big power struggles. Instead, try putting connection at the heart of the way you set limits, using this limit, listen, limit approach. This approach asks you to consider your child’s feelings about what it is you are asking for, and it helps you to listen calmly, while maintaining that what you need to happen does get done. It also avoids the anger and lecturing that actually just pushes a person to shutdown and is so often ineffective. Stepping in and setting limits early keeps your relationship secure and strong, so don't leave it until things get heated.
Be There During Upsets – It is not unusual for your tween to bottle up feelings until they get loud and explosive. This can involve negative comments, name calling and door slamming. Your child is not bad. They are merely offloading. When you can stay and listen to this outpouring of pent up emotion, you show them that you have their back. You show them feelings are normal and ok, and that getting them out is useful. And you show them that you will be there through good times and not so good times. This is a key idea for building that security and trust.
Don’t Forget What You Need – These ideas might not be magical cures that make parenting tweens easy – we wish we did have that! – but they do foster understanding, trust and connection, and are very powerful. And yet, to use them well, you need support too. It takes energy to play, flexibility to offer one-on-one time, and calm clarity listening to your child’s feelings.
Writing out how you feel and what you notice can help, and setting up regular times to indulge in the things you enjoy most can also be useful. Far and away the best thing we can advise is having someone that you can offload to, in just the way you are offering to your tween. (This also means you have a place where you can process the parts in parenting you find difficult away from your child, so you are way less likely to sling it at them in an argument). It also preserves the security, trust and connection that you are building.
Find a parent who is also adopting these tools and ask them to swap time so you both get a chance to offload and to listen. Read more about this idea here. Many parents post in this group when they want to find a parent to swap time with.
These five ideas will help you see the good in your child and your parenting, even when life gets challenging. And the bank of good connection you build into your daily routine now will do lasting good through the teen years.
Parenting tweens and keeping them close takes big shifts. Get a deep dive into the tools we have outlined in this post in our brand new online class Raising Happier Tweens.