In my previous article, “How to Mother a Middle Schooler: Spoiler Alert, You Already Know!” I spoke of the similarities among the toddler years and tween years. I also addressed how your middle schooler or “tween” has a desire to fit in with peers, (hence they whine, “Everyone has a phone but me!”) and their desire for more independence at home and often shout, “leave me alone!”
You may be wondering, “Is it possible to give my tween enough independence while also building a strong and meaningful connection?” Absolutely! As child and teen therapist, I offer some helpful tips:
- Establish and announce family rules, responsibilities, and boundaries that matter to you
As your tween begins to push boundaries at home, your family’s rules will need updating. Finding a calm time to discuss new family rules and responsibilities with your tween will help build the framework of expectations of what is and is not acceptable. This is something for you to develop over time with a partner or a trusted friend before you begin the discussion with your tween and other children. Decide which rules, limits, and boundaries are most important to you (ie: weeknight family dinners, no phones at the table, curfew times, etc.,) and explain why these rules matter to you and to the family. Your tween may also have ideas and suggestions to contribute to the family rules, but ultimately you have the final say about any and all rules. The more you consider and respect his or her opinions, suggestions, and thoughts, the more your tween will “buy in” to the family’s established rules, responsibilities, and boundaries moving forward.
- Find time for friends
This applies to you! Parenting tweens can be more challenging than parenting toddlers and elementary-aged children, and there’s nary a support group in sight for mothers of tweens! Turn to your partner, spouse, friends, and social circles for support for this challenging time in child development. Follow your child’s lead and make friendships a priority. Let them go on sleepovers so you can enjoy some adult time to vent, discuss parenting issues, and relax!
- Listen to empathize, not to fix or criticize
The number one complaint I hear from tweens is that their parents offer advice for their problems, but instead they really just want their parents to listen and empathize. Take a step back, and do what worked best when they were toddlers- provide comfort when they feel hurt, distract them from stress, and provide insights into relationships- when they’re open to it.
- Spend quality time together
The number one way I’ve seen parents successfully enhance their relationship with their middle schooler is by taking time to get to know the person they are now. Your middle schooler is a very different person than she was even 6 months ago, and she’s probably more interesting than ever.
Remember the joy you felt when she took her first steps, or said her first words? Try to elicit the same interest and joy when getting to better know your tween. If you are open minded and interested in learning who they have become, that will go a long way into strengthening your relationship.
- Strengthen your relationship
Find an activity to do together (that you both like), and focus on enjoying each other’s company. Joint activities are a great way to connect and have a positive experience that isn’t about school, problems, or responsibilities. Try letting them lead the conversation, and see where it goes. The more you listen, the more they’ll want to talk. If they want your opinion, they will ask for it.
And finally, although your tween expresses a desire to make more decisions on their own and to manage their own life, they are still children living under your roof, and sometimes that middle schooler just needs a hug and some one on one time with mommy or daddy after all.