“I’m having a difficult time connecting with my ‘tween’ age daughter. The world she is growing up in seems so different from my own experiences as a young girl. I really want to develop a close bond with her, but we are having a tough time relating to one another. Any suggestions?”
By definition, tweens are in transition from childhood to adolescence. Just as tweens are making a shift to this new developmental stage, a shift in parenting is required as well. Understanding this particular phase can help parents gain new insight into their child’s behavior.
As a result of heightened brain activity at this stage, tweens will often become more emotional and reactive. They will also begin to interpret the world around them in new ways – and with more opportunities for misinterpretation. For example, when you calmly ask your tween to put away her shoes and she has a meltdown saying “Stop yelling at me! You are always yelling at me!” she has misinterpreted how your request was intended.
One of the most influential factors, and indeed, potentially biggest barriers to parent connection in child and adolescent development that we currently face is how social media and electronic culture interfaces with our children. As you have noticed, the landscape has definitely changed from when you were young. Now, as an example, reactivity and self-definition are having broader and more public consequences for young people – which their young brains may not be fully equipped to handle.
The parent relationship at this stage in a child’s life becomes critical because they will need the benefit of your fully developed prefrontal cortex to assist them in thinking through the issues and challenges that accompany their complex world. Here are a few things to consider that you may find helpful in that process.
Keep recognizing that today’s world is different from the one you grew up in. Nothing turns off a young person more that hearing a lecture that starts with “When I was your age…”
Try using a different approach in your language. A subtle shift in how you converse with your daughter may result in better dialogues between the two of you. In particular, try using the phrase “I notice…” followed by the phrase “I wonder…” Children of all ages need to feel seen and heard. When you use the phrase “I notice” with your tween, she will feel recognized and empowered. “I wonder” is effective because it is different than a directive; it is more invitational and “permission-giving.” Your tween will be less defensive as she responds to the subtleties of your new language. For example, I’m noticing you seem quiet after school today; I wonder if you’d like to talk about what happened.
Don’t ride the emotional roller coaster with your child. Tweens have each other to play that role. What she needs from you is to stay calm in heated situations, be present with her in your conversations and remain strong in your ability to set appropriate boundaries.
Don’t get offended when your tween rejects time with you. Her job, socially, is to learn how to navigate her peer connections and develop her self-identity. As she does, use this time to implement positive ways to care for yourself. Be ready when she wants to reconnect with you.
Talk about balance. Nearly everything we do as parents comes down to helping our kids live in balance physically, socially and emotionally until they are able to do that on their own. Teach your daughter about what balance means and show her how you strive for balance in your own life.
Find out the best way to interact with your tween. The way you show love and affection to your tween may or may not be how she would like to receive it. Consider reading The Five Love Languages for Teens by Gary Chapman for insights on how to recognize what your child needs from you and how you can provide it in a way that is meaningful to them.
Above all, don’t panic! Talk with your daughter about your wish to connect with her and allow her to teach you about what if feels like to be a tween today.
Stephanie Lowe-Sagebiel is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with Centerpoint Counseling and Baume Psychological Services and has nearly twenty years of experience helping adults, teens and children develop healthy skills to manage life’s challenges.
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