As children begin to move into teenager-hood, parenting can become increasingly challenging. It can be difficult to connect in the same way as when they were younger, and as a result it requires a lot of adjustment to keep that connection strong. As outside influences on our kids are ever-expanding with smartphones, T.V., social media, etc., it becomes even more important that we maintain our relationships with our kids in positive ways as they navigate this new world. Below are a few tips on how to build a connection with your preteen.
Connect at Bedtime.
This is something you can begin with your children even before they hit age 10-13, but particularly for this age group, a no-pressure time to chat about anything and everything can be a great way to connect. (As an added bonus, kids are more inclined to talk if it means they get to stay up for a few more minutes.) Create a policy that says they can ask or say anything to you or your spouse at bedtime, opening up the floor for anything they’d been meaning to ask but either couldn’t find a good time or kept forgetting to mention. Let them lead the conversation and be sure to bring empathy to the table, listening rather than lecturing.
Be Intentional About Time Together.
Preteens are in a stage in which they have one foot in childhood and one foot in adolescence, so even though they may not initiate time together, they often still enjoy and even crave it. Create a regular one-on-one date with each of your children just to spend time together without any agenda of trying to pry information out of them or give advice. Simply enjoy each other’s company. Ask open-ended questions to get to know them better, and above all, listen. Family dinners are another great way to keep the connection going in your home, even if it’s not a daily discussion of deep topics. Just being together regularly and making it a priority can have huge impact.
Allow Space Within Boundaries.
Preteens need to know that they have some level of autonomy while still having boundaries. They need to know they are being protected from things that are unsafe, but they also want some degree of independence. Allowing them to use their phones until a certain time at night or except during family dinner, for example, is a good way of giving them some leeway without letting them run the show themselves. Be sure your expectations are made clear for boundaries, so they know how to succeed and explore the limits. They will push back at times, but remaining calm and firm, while compassionate, is key to maintaining connection.
Model and Encourage Healthy Habits
As they approach adolescence, preteens are going to be faced with body image issues, their relationship with food, the temptation to rebel, and all manner of challenges. Try to create an environment of felt safety and affirmation for your children and model healthy relationships with food and body image. Speak positively about yourself and pursue balance in your own life in these areas as well — children pick up on how you speak about your own body and habits. It can also be helpful to speak from experience and help them understand that everyone has insecurities and struggles with their identity, and remind them of their identity in Christ first and foremost.