5 Smart Ways to Stay Connected to Your Tween
Tweens - they are not yet adults, but way past being little kids. It can be hard to be a tween, and even harder to parent them. And yet, this age is also so fun, as you begin to see their gifts, talents and personalities come into even sharper focus. How do you lean into these years and stay connected to your kids as they grow into teenagers? Here are 5 smart ways to stay in the boat with your tweens.
We feel like we should already be considered professionals at this parenting gig, right? We’ve raised babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary-aged kids. Our parenting resume is loaded. We’ve navigated through sleeping through the night, potty training, learning to swim and ride a bike, and on through multiplication and long division.
Somehow though, when our kids cross over into being tweens, rolling toward being teenagers, we’ve got to throw out much of what we have learned. We realize quickly that we need to rethink our strategies. Its time to meet them where they are. Time to release the reins a bit. Time to find new ways to connect. Time to seek advice from parent friends who have gone before us, to read books by the experts, and to pray, pray, pray. We’ve controlled almost every decision related to them for the entirety of their childhoods, but it is time to reconsider what our objectives are and the most effective ways to get there.
High on the list of our goals is to stay in the boat with them. Being a tween and teen is a wild ride for them and us too. It’s easy to get thrown out by putting discipline before the relationship. Our main goal must be to remain connected, simply to not get shut out. It’s a critical time to teach them about faith, friendships, work ethic, manners, responsibility, safety, and so much more, but to do this effectively, we must first listen, connect, serve, and love them well.
Here are five ways to stay in the boat with our tweens:
A tween’s brain is filled with a great deal to process. They are taking in so much more from their expanding worlds, and they need a safe place to process it. We need to stay in the boat so we can help them do just that by listening. But we can’t listen as we used to.
When our kids want to talk to us and are willing to share, sometimes it is best to listen without big reactions or our judgments. They’ll likely stop talking immediately if they feel like we are dismissing them or their friends by being quick to judge. Our tweens are already struggling with feeling judged all the time.
Dramatic reactions can shut down conversations just as quickly. We’ve got to wait for the right moment to respond, only after we’ve listened. We have core values that we want to teach our kids but we must figure out when to talk about those things. We want our tweens to keep talking.
Great times to listen and talk are when we are active or facing out naturally, such as on walks, while we are cooking, or while in the car.
Another great way to listen, and be listened to, is through a journal that we could pass back and forth. Many are organized for us, with leading prompts, such as The Mom and Daughter Daily Journal and the Just Between Us: Mother & Daughter: No-Rules, No-Stress Journal. Or, we can purchase a simple notebook or journal to pass back and forth.
Acknowledging that this age is hard physically, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually is critical so our kids will feel like we “get them”. One day after a long day of sixth grade, I asked my tween, “Middle school is hard, isn’t it?” Along with an immediate little nod came a moment of connection. She understood that I know that it is hard to be her age. They need to know that we don’t dismiss that. They’ll be more likely to stay connected if we concede that where they are is not at all easy.
Aware that days at school or with friends can be challenging, let’s make fun a priority. Invite them to go for smoothies and talk without lecturing or interrogating. Rent comedy movies, pump fun music, or watch funny You-Tube clips. Let’s fill our houses with laughter, even with those up and down moods our tweens have.
3. Remain Steady
The brain of a tween is on overdrive transitioning itself from childhood to adulthood. It is exhausting and taxing.
If they are fussing or are irrationally angry, let’s try not to jump on that train with them. Remain steady and loving, even when we want to fuss right back at them. We want them to be respectful, but we also must decide to let somethings go remembering that they likely don’t want to act as they are. We can’t take it personally if they are difficult and we must show them some love anyway. This doesn’t mean we always allow disrespect. This takes great discernment and prayer. When they are keyed up, it just might not be the time to process through their behavior with them. We can step away and tell them we’ll step back in in a bit when they are speaking respectfully.
Their thinking and their interactions with the world are turbulent. Let’s try to be steady, soft places to fall for them. Let’s stay in their boat through the choppy waters.
4. Say Yes
Our kids are figuring themselves out, pushing boundaries, and taking new steps at school and beyond. They might feel constantly attacked or picked at by us, or their peers and teachers, even if this is not the case. Whenever its safely and appropriately feasible, let’s empower them by making every effort to say yes to their moves toward independence. To think through how often we are saying no. To consider that some of the times when we are saying no might be because we are holding on so tightly to childhood that we fail to realize how capable they now are. Control is our habit.
Let’s say yes to fun as often as possible too. Though we might feel like saying no, maybe we can say yes to allowing them to stay home a bit by themselves or to inviting friends over more often. Maybe it is a yes to stopping at a coffee shop or for bubble tea.
If we want them to talk about faith with them, we can let our tweens pick out a Bible study or devotional (such as You’re God’s Girl: A Devotional for Tween Girls or Jesus Calling: 50 Devotions to Grow in Your Faith), and ask them when and where would work best for them to be together. Then we try to say yes. To plan outings to talk together at places that they might enjoy like Chik-fil-A or a coffee shop. We can say yes if they want to invite friends along. Or, say yes to hot chocolate and time on the couch.
Saying yes to fun and activities that are more enjoyable to our growing up child might just help us stay in the boat.
5. Surround Them
This is the age when our kids start listening to the voices of others more than they do ours. At the same time, it is a pivotal time in their lives. A time when our tweens need other trusted voices. We can help connect them to small group leaders, coaches, or mentors. If they have found good friends, we can let them invite them over. Make our houses the house those tweens want to go to.
It’s a great time to buy them devotionals and introduce them to more widely known authors and speakers. We could let them watch Priscilla Shirer in The Overcomer and then read her book Radiant or work through her the companion Bible study, Defined.
Let’s surround our tweens with other trusted voices, from the parents of friends that we trust, to older teens at our church or in our neighborhoods. If we make space in our relationship for them to connect with other truth-telling influencers, we are more likely to get to remain in the boat with them.
Parenting a tween is a wild and tumultuous ride. Our sweet babies have grown into independent-almost-teenagers, so it’s time to sort through strategies for staying connected with them. Our goal? Our goal is always to stay in that boat with them. To listen to them, acknowledge the challenges they face, to be steady, say yes as often as possible, surround them with trusted voices, and to share as much life and faith wisdom in ways in which they’ll hear us. And fun. Let’s try to have as much fun with them as possible as we navigate these tween waters.
Rebecca Radicchi, her husband and crew of kids, live outside Atlanta, where the summers are hot and the tea is sweet. She’s ridden the waves of adoption, breast cancer, and being the mom of kids with complex medical needs. And, through it all, she’s seen that abundance can be found in the uncomfortable hard and in the easy beautiful. She’s also discovered that whether she’s passing bread at the kitchen table, clock-watching in a hospital waiting room, or listening to a neighbor on a porch swing, God always has something to say. It’s a wonder really. She encourages others to listen for it too on her website and Instagram, and also connects with adoptive families at No Hands But Ours.