Recently, I was asked to speak at a Middle School Parenting University and I wanted to share with you my 25-minute talk titled, “STAYING CONNECTED WITH YOUR TWEEN: 5 Keys You Need to Know”
As I prepared for my talk, my husband shared how, when our daughter was a pre-teen and in middle school, that he quickly learned he needed to be flexible during this time. Because, just like her developing hormones, one day she might act like she was 25 and the next day she would revert back to being his little girl.
HERE ARE THE 5 KEYS
1-Acknowledge vs. Dismiss
Many times parents dismiss their child’s feeling without even realizing it – How many times have you said:
“It’s just silly to feel that way.”
“You’ve been mad long enough.”
We would not like it if an adult said that to us and children are no different. If you dismiss a child’s feelings they don’t feel heard and they definitely don’t feel understood.
Instead, acknowledge how your child feels.
HOW? By simply putting a name to what you see.
If you see they’re angry and frustrated put a name to it.
“You know what, it looks like your really frustrated.”
Acknowledging what it is they are feeling validates what they are feeling and lets them know that they have been heard.
By acknowledging them, you give them an awareness that you understand
2-Step Into Your Pre-Teen’s Reality
What this means is you are just going to LISTEN. Anything you try to do to fix things will just feel like an opinion or judgment to them. So, all your going to do is LISTEN and don’t try to fix it.
You’re going to actually “step into what it feels like for them.”
Then you’re going to say, “Wow this sounds like a really difficult situation, and I can tell your trying to figure it out. If you want or need my help on this one, please let me know.”
3-Teach Your Kids How To Manage Their Life
In the beginning stages, when children are younger, parents definitely manage their lives: we tell them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. But, when they start entering into the pre-teen and teenage years, they start to pull away, (which is normal), and they don’t want you to always manage their life any more.
The problem is, they do not have the tools to manage their life, and so someone has to manage it for them. So, as you start to release the reins a bit, you need to start teaching them how to manage their life.
What this looks like is more of conservation. So, instead of getting angry with them because they are making mistakes, you talk about it. Ask them questions about the situation.
I’ve had parents ask me, “What if my daughter makes a mistake?” I tell them she is going to mistakes, we all do. But, knowing they are going to make mistakes, and that mistakes are good, they have a chance to learn though this process. Remember: you need to teach your child how to manage their life while you stop the process of managing it for them.
4-You Need Boundaries and Your Child to Be Able to Set Boundaries Too
The boundaries you set for your pre-teen are critical. They need to know that their weekday 9 o’clock bedtime means 9 o’clock. Not 5 minutes after, not 15 minutes after, and it does not mean they can try to negotiate it, 9 o’clock means 9 o’clock. Doing this is good for them so they really know where they are with you.
At this stage there is a lot of difference between a 6th grader and an 8th grader. I would suggest weekday bedtime curfew for 6th -7th graders be 9 o’clock. And most 8th graders are ready for a 10 o’clock bedtime curfew. On weekends you can extend their bedtime curfews by looking closely at each child’s individual sleep patterns. For example, say your child is night owl, like my nephew, so a weekend bedtime curfew an 8th grade night owl could be 1 o’clock in the morning.
Your child also needs to be able to have their boundaries for you as well. Just because they are pre-teens does not mean they don’t have rights. So, if they ask you, “Mom is there any way you can knock before you come into the bedroom?,” you need to respect that. Respect that they are setting a boundary.
If you want to teach your child to have boundaries, then you need to let your child to have boundaries as well. It’s really important that you have firm boundaries and they get to have boundaries as well.
5-Don’t Let Your Feelings Muddy the Water
Dealing with your own feelings around your pre-teen’s behaviors – If you allow your fears to come into your child’s behavior you’re going to react to “your fears” and “not your child’s behavior” and it’s not going to be a good situation. Let’s say your child stayed up playing on the computer 45 minutes past their bedtime curfew and, when you discover this, it’s late, you’re tired, you’re worried too much computer time is hurting your child, you’e worried that if they are breaking this rule what other rules are they breaking that you don’t know about. So, you just react and say to them “You’re grounded from the computer. Get to your room and go to bed.” What do you think your child is thinking about when they go to their room? They are not thinking about what happened, their thinking about how their parents misunderstand them and how they don’t like their parents.
We don’t want that to be the lesson. We want the lesson to be – “When you say you’ll be in bed by 9, it’s really important that you keep your word and be in bed by then. If you want to develop a relationship based on trust and you want me to keep releasing the reins so you can manage your life, then you have to be a person of your word.” So you just sit with them and talk about that, so that the lesson comes out of it instead of their thinking about something different. It’s really important that you keep your fears out of it.
The first thing you might say to them is:
“Is everything OK? You’re 45 minutes past your bedtime.” And if they say, ”Yes, something did happen and this is what happened.” You give them the opportunity to explain what happened and then you can go into a teaching with them.
Or, if you choose to wait and address it with your child the next morning when you know you’ll be calmer, you might say this:
“It was very late when you finally went to bed last night. It was past the time we agreed on. I need to be able to trust you to follow thru on the things you say you will do. It is important now and will only become more important as you get older. We have to be able to trust each other.”
Here is a real-life situation from my sister and her pre-teen son that she shared with me:
“…. I got up to go to the bathroom and he was still up and it was way past bedtime curfew. The first time, I just reacted and did the ‘mad thing’ and I do mean reacted; a gut response. The next time it happened, I realized I was responding to ‘my fears’ and not ‘his behavior’ so, I took this approach…. he was in the other room on the computer and immediately turned it off and stealthily got into bed and feigned sleeping, once he realized I caught him. I chose to let it go until the next day. It was the weekend, so I knew I’d have time to speak with him the next day, which we did. That was better because by then my gut was no longer in control, my heart was. I sat down next to him so we were at the same level and we had a real conversation about trust. I wasn’t mad and I spoke to him person-to-person; it was not a heated discussion or a one-way discussion. We talked how important trust was, how it’s easy to lose and hard to earn back and why it was so important to me and to our relationship. He shared how he felt as well. I was heard and he was heard and he was reminded (because he already knew) how important the trust component is to our relationship and to his place as an upcoming young adult as well.
“Thru our discussion I saw how important it was to him that I be able to believe the things he tells me; to trust he is telling the truth. I also learned it is important to him that he doesn’t disappoint me. We also discussed his ability to trust me. He wants to trust I won’t cross his personal boundaries and trust that he is capable. He wants to trust that I don’t read his email, for example. I have his email password and he knows I could read his email at anytime, but he doesn’t want me to read it and needs to be able to trust me that I won’t. I agreed I would not read his email without his permission but there may be a situation down the road that I would need to check his email, and I would ask for that permission first and with his full knowledge and I will stick to that. I won’t break that trust, his trust of me is just as important as my trust of him. The conversation continued on from there, it actually went past the bedtime incident and into other things that were on his mind.”
OK PARENTS, THE 5 KEYS ARE:
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings
- Step into your pre-teens reality
- Help them learn how to manage their own life
- You Need Boundaries and Your Child to Be Able to Set Boundaries Too
- Don’t Let Your Feelings Muddy the Water
Dr Trotter also post regularly in her FaceBook fan page http://www.facebook.com/DrKaySudekumTrotter.