Staying connected with your kids as they approach the teen years may be a challenge for parents, but it's as important as ever.
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While activities at school, new interests and a growing social life become more important to preteens, parents are still the anchors, providing love, guidance and support. The parent-child connection provides a sense of security and helps build the resilience kids need to roll with life's ups and downs.
What to expect
Your preteen may act like your guidance isn't needed and seem embarrassed by you at times. This is when kids start to confide more in their peers and request space and privacy.
As difficult as it may be to accept these changes, try not to take them personally. They're all signs of growing independence. You're still a powerful influence, but your preteen may be more responsive to the example you set rather than the instructions you give.
Modeling the qualities you want your preteen to learn and practice – respectful communication, kindness, healthy eating and fulfilling everyday responsibilities without complaining – makes it more likely that your son or daughter will comply.
What you can do
Small, simple things can reinforce connection. Make room in your schedule for special times, take advantage of the routines you already share and show that you care.
Here are some tips:
- Family meals: It may seem like a chore to prepare a meal, particularly after a long day, but a shared family meal provides valuable together time.
If it's impossible to do every night, schedule a regular weekly family dinner that accommodates kids' schedules. Make it something fun and get everyone involved in the preparation and cleanup. Sharing an activity helps build closeness and connection, and everyone pitching in reinforces a sense of responsibility and teamwork.
- Bedtime: Your child may not need to be tucked in anymore, but maintaining a consistent bedtime routine helps kids get the sleep they need to grow healthy and strong. Work in some winding-down time together before the lights go out. Read together, go over the highlights of the day and talk about tomorrow.
Even if your preteen has outgrown the tuck-in routine, there's still a place for a goodnight kiss or hug as you wish your child a good night's sleep.
- Share ordinary time: Find little things that allow you to hang out together. Washing the car, walking the dog, baking cookies, renting movies and watching a favorite TV show are all opportunities to enjoy each other's company and let kids talk about what’s on their mind.
- Create special time: Make a tradition out of celebrating family milestones beyond birthdays and holidays. Marking smaller occasions – like a good report card or a winning soccer game – helps reinforce family bonds.
- Show affection: Don't underestimate the value of saying and showing how much you love your preteen. Doing so ensures kids feel loved and secure. Still, preteens may start to feel self-conscious about big displays of affection from parents, especially in public. If they pull away from your hug and kiss, try not to take it personally.
In public, find other ways to show that you care. A smile or a wave can convey a warm send-off while respecting boundaries.
- Stay involved: Getting involved in your preteen’s expanding pursuits provides more shared experiences. However, you don't have to be the homeroom parent or soccer coach to be involved. Your child may actually want to do more activities where you're not in charge and that's OK.
Go to games and practices when you can; when you can't, ask how things went and listen attentively. Help kids talk through the disappointments and be sympathetic about the missed fly ball that won the game for the other team. Your attitude about setbacks will teach your preteen to accept them and summon the courage to try again.
- Stay interested: Stay interested and curious about your preteen's ideas, feelings and experiences. If you listen to what he or she is saying, you'll get a better sense of the guidance, perspective and support needed.