Keeping the lines of communication open as your child grows can be difficult.
Like all others, your relationship with your child needs to be cultivated, but you can easily fall into maintenance mode of just taking care of their physical needs and forget that there is a whole personality growing underneath the day-to-day chauffeuring, meal preparation, and household chores. Giving your teen focused attention and support is an important part of helping them know that you love them and you are in their corner. Here are a few things you can do to move from being on the peripheral of your preteen’s life to enjoying a deeper relationship. This article isn’t just for parents. Although I’m not a parent myself I’ve worked with children and youth for over 20 years (I started as a teenager). So I know that you don’t have to have children to care deeply about them. This article is for aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, family friends, youth workers, and everyone who has a preteen in their life they care about, but feel they are growing distanced from.
Ask more focused questions about your preteen’s thoughts, then listen.
Try not to make assumptions, steer the conversation or judge your teen. Last week I spoke about the importance of validation. This is a crucial part of connecting. Use empathy and really take time to value what she is saying and reflect back genuine concern and emotion. Ask her what she thinks about situations and her life, pick categories- who are your best friend and why? Who’s your favorite teacher and why? Ask her more about herself to find out who she’s developing to be. How does she feel about herself? Who are her heroes?
If you run into thoughts that you think might be damaging rather than telling her not to think a certain way, ask a lot of questions. Get her to answer why she thinks the way she does. Who are her influences? Is she a critical thinker or does she just accept everything at face value? From that point, you can develop a plan to explain and show her healthier ways to think about things that may come up.
Use normal day-to-day outings to tell your child more about who you are as a person.
Tell her about your what you were like as a child and teenager. My mother used to take me with her to run errands. To this day these are some of my fondest alone time memories with her. I took for granted how much I learned about my mom’s experiences because I asked her so many questions. I always found it strange when I met other people who didn’t know simple things about their parents.
Share struggles, regrets, and accomplishments. Share valuable lessons you learned. Get her to think about things you are speaking about and share her personal opinions on them. Use outings as little teachable moments.
Don’t hide your struggles.
Parents rightfully try to shield their children from some of the adult issues that they go through. This makes sense and it is healthy, but I’ve found that it is valuable to show vulnerability to your child. When they are old enough to understand, you can begin to involve them and have real conversations about issues while keeping it simple. Instead of telling your child something terrifying like “We are running into money issues and we might lose our house” You can say “We are trying to be better as a family at budgeting so that we can achieve some of our family money goals.” Encourage your child to be a part of solutions. Get them helping with the household tasks and to see their contribution as valuable.
While I do think it’s necessary to protect our kids I do think some parents go overboard in shielding their kids from reality. When you do too much for them and hide issues this can lead to overly self-centered kids. Let them know that things are challenging when they are. Let them know that you have a wide range of emotions as well and things they do can affect you.
To be continued next week!