It’s typically between the ages of nine and twelve that our cute, cuddly little children, once so willing to climb into our laps and share their secrets, suddenly want little or nothing to do with us.
Your pre-adolescent is not the same person he was just a year or two ago. He has changed— physically, emotionally and socially. He is developing new independence and may even want to see how far he can push limits set by parents.
What he may not know is that he needs you as much as ever, because a strong parent-child relationship now can set the stage for a much less turbulent adolescence. But it won’t be easy, because you as a parent need to respect your child’s need for greater autonomy in order to forge a successful relationship with this “updated” version of your child.
Tips to help you keep the channels of communication open between you and your pre-teen, and have a smoother transition into the teen years.
1. Don’t feel rejected by their newfound independence
It’s normal for kids this age to start turning away from their parents and relying more and more on friends, but parents can take their pre-teen’s withdrawal as rejection. All too often parents personalise some of the distance that occurs and misinterpret it as a willful refusal or maybe oppositional behaviour.
Beware of trying to force information out of a resistant tween. Parents who insist on wanting to know everything, can alienate their children by being too inquisitive.
2. Set aside special time with your child
It’s often tough to get preteens to open up and talk. Having a special 1 on 1 time once or twice a week that you spend with your tween, where you’re providing undivided attention.
In doing this, you’re not only improving your relationship, you’re also teaching interpersonal skills that are going to be crucial in the future.
3. Don’t be overly judgmental
At this age children are watching their parents very astutely to hear how judgmental they are, and they are taking their cues on how their parents talk about other people’s children, especially children that get into trouble—how that girl or that boy has good manners or bad manners. They are watching and deciding whether you are harsh or critical or judgmental.
4. Watch what they watch with them
Beginning in primary school, watching/reading the stuff that your child wants with him and being able to laugh at it and talk about it is an important way to connect and to be able to discuss subjects that would otherwise be taboo.
5. Don’t overreact
An overreacting mom or dad, in a bad situation, makes things worse. This style of parenting amplifies the drama, throwing fuel on the pre-adolescent’s already hyper-reactive flame. They make their kids more upset.
6. Don’t be “clueless” either
At the other extreme, don’t be a parent who “just ignores stuff”. You risk seeming oblivious or unconcerned to your child.
Finding just the right balance with your tween will probably not be the easiest parenting job you’ve ever had. It will take some trial and error, but keeping the channels of communication open during these years is well worth the work you’ll have to put in.
If you develop trust with preteens you can offer them a safe place to come back to no matter what happens in the new world they’re inhabiting, and in doing that you’ll also be setting the stage for a smoother adolescence.