Connecting with little kids often means getting on the floor to play Legos or Barbies. A game of chase or a quiet snuggle was just part of the daily routine.
Now your child is a tween and finding ways to connect seems to be less straightforward (and sometimes even awkward!).
The announcement: “I don’t need you to walk me to the bus stop today, mom,” catches you off guard.
On one hand, you love that he’s getting older and more independent. On the other hand, you are not quite ready to let him go. How do you keep the relationship strong when he seems to be pulling away?
Rest assured your child still needs – and wants – you in their life. But, that might mean changing the way you connect.
How you handle the everyday, ordinary, interactions with your child can be the perfect chance to build a strong relationship that will last into the teen years, and beyond.
Ordinary Opportunities to Connect with Your Tween
- During transition times – You may think that early morning snuggles and bedtime tuck-ins are a thing of the past, but many kids still cherish these times with their parents (even if they would never admit this to their friends). Make an effort to connect with your child before they leave for school, a hug, cuddle, eating breakfast together or leaving a note in their lunchbox can go a long way. Reading out loud together is still valuable for tweens and so is offering them time to talk about their day before they fall asleep.
- When they make a mistake – Just like you used to say, “Oops! The milk spilled, let’s get a towel” when your child was a toddler, you can continue to empathize that mistakes part of learning and growing. Focus on areas of strength, point out places where your child put in a lot of effort and it paid off. Talk about what they learned from their mistake and how they can use this information to make a different choice next time. If a mistake is becoming a habit, have a conversation about the things they need to do to reach their goals, and if they want/need your help!
- When life gets complicated – Gone are the days of naptime and sippy cups. Now your kids are dealing with friend drama, social pressure, challenging homework assignments, and more responsibility. Your child is probably relatively new to decision making, so it’s important to slow down the process and help them learn to think critically. Rather than jumping in with a solution, help them explore the pros and cons. Brainstorm solutions together and allow them space to try different strategies (even if it means they might fail).
- When you need to set a limit – Limits don’t need to be a “my way or the highway” lecture. Engaging in a discussion is a great way to connect with your black-and-white thinking tween. Saying something like, “A sleepover doesn’t work for our family this week, let’s look at the calendar and find a date that would work better.” Or, if your answer is definitely “no,” the conversation may sound like, “In our family, we do not purchase video games with that rating, but I’d love to hear more about the other games you are really into right now.”
- When they’re in a bad mood – Regardless of the reason behind the sour mood, your response can build up or break down the relationship. Rather than making sarcastic comments and mimicking the eye rolling, look for ways to connect. This might mean giving your “prickly” child a hug, offering to play a game together, sitting quietly without trying to fix the problem or force them to talk about it. Sometimes, your supportive presence is all they need at the moment.
- BONUS: When you walk into their messy room – Holding your tongue speaks volumes to your kids. Of course, you want your kids to learn how to clean up after themselves and contribute to the family, but nagging them everytime you enter their space is not working. Instead, save the room-cleaning discussions for another time. Step over the piles of laundry and connect with your child as a person. Show them that you love them more than you love cleanliness
When you feel your child pulling away, don’t panic. Take a deep breath.
Then look for ways to connect with your child through the natural interactions throughout your day.
Keep it simple.
“Sounds good, honey. Let’s do our big hug goodbye before you leave for the bus, though!”
Ordinary connection can build strong relationships.
The “classic” connection ideas still apply to your tween! Check out this list for 50 ideas and experiment to see which activities and interactions seem to fit best with your child.