As our children get older, our relationship inevitably starts to shift. They’re no longer the tiny humans who would hold our hand in public and shout “I love you” from the rooftops. We blink and suddenly they’ve become mini-adults with their own thoughts and opinions—no longer about things we once deemed silly, like having the blue sippy cup instead of the red. Now they have opinions about screentime and rules, they want a say in things we didn’t anticipate, and we may even start to hear things like, “You never listen to me!” or “You’re the worst mom ever!”
You might find it hard to connect through this new stage of life as you rack your brain for what you can do that won’t get you thrown out of their sacred space. The truth is, it’s a lot simpler than you might think. Growing up, my dad used to tell my sister and me, “The two most important things in any relationship are trust and communication.” As a teenager, I was focused on the implications of that statement when it came to romantic relationships. Having worked with children and families for over ten years, and now as a mama to multiples myself, that sound bite from one of his infamously long lectures hits a little different.
These two things that I used to think were exclusive to romantic relationships have proven to be the most transformational ways I can show my tween—soon-to-be teen—that I love them and care about them. Here are some simple shifts that fall into each category that you can start implementing this month.
From asking questions to having conversations, communication is an underrated part of most parent-child relationships that goes a long way. As you think about what you are already doing and what shifts you can make, use some of the examples below to get you started.
- Share light-hearted stories about your day, conversations you’ve had, or even things you experienced when you were their age.
- Get curious! Ask more open-ended questions that keep the conversation going.
- When they share a problem they’re experiencing, validate the experience (instead of trying to fix it).
- Ask consent before offering advice. (Ex: “Would you be open to hearing my thoughts?”)
- Be explicit in your expectations and requests. (Ex: Instead of, “The trash is full,” you could say, “Take five minutes to finish up what you’re doing and then take the trash out, please.”)
- Leave little love notes about what you love and appreciate about your child in random places.
- Thank them when they do things, even if you’ve had to ask (what feels like) a million times.
- Practice listening more and talking less. Most times, they just need someone to listen.
- Remember that non-verbal communication goes a long way.
- Even on the heavy days and the weeks that feel like they’re never-ending with rage, attitude, and all the things tweens and teens are notorious for, remember to say, “I love you. Period.”
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Trust is a tricky thing when it comes to our kids. As the adult, we want to do what’s in our children’s best interest, but we also want to teach them the skills they’ll need to do the right thing and trust themselves when we’re not around. One of the best ways we can show them we trust them while still holding boundaries is giving them opportunities to do what they think is the right thing and have conversations when they do something that doesn’t align with our family values. Here are some ways that you can balance trust and boundaries with your tween and teen.
- Ask what they think would be reasonable when it comes to limits. If they get stuck, ask what they think would be unreasonable.
- When having conversations about limits, let them know, “I trust that you’re going to respect these limits because it’s something we discussed and agreed upon.”
- When they go out with friends, let them know, “I trust that you’re going to make healthy choices and stay true to who you are and your values.”
- When they share things that you have to act on as a parent, acknowledge their trust in you and work together to take next steps. “Thank you for trusting me with this. I want you to know that I will always be here AND it’s my job as a parent to make sure you and others are safe. I know it’s going to be hard taking action, but I’d like to hear what you think is the right thing to do before sharing my thoughts.”
- Allow them to make mistakes and to make amends when they do.
- Be consistent in aligning what you say and what you do.
- Follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Remember, you need to build trust with them as well.
- Do fun things together. Life doesn’t always have to be about to-do lists and getting things done. Take time to genuinely connect.
- Be open to feedback and willing to work on yourself as a parent. We aren’t perfect.
- Acknowledge and take responsibility for mistakes made and repair the relationship.
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