Parenting tweenagers is not for the faint of heart. With each of my children, somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12 they went from wanting to spend time with me and talking my ear off, to basically wanting nothing to do with me and answering most questions with grunts and snarls.
The teenage years are like riding a high speed rollercoaster blindfolded. Your child is changing – physically, mentally, emotionally and socially, and this requires new parenting strategies. In the past, your child readily answered questions about their day, but tweenagers feel carpet-bombed by this approach, so they tend to shut down.
Instead of asking outright how their day went, try making their favorite snack and sitting in the kitchen with them while they eat – without asking questions. If you give them space, you’ll be amazed to find they start talking.
When they talk, show you’re interested without judging or attempting to problem-solve. As your tweenager shares about not being invited to the birthday party, remain calm and sympathetic instead of lashing out about how awful kids can be or saying that it’s not a big deal and they shouldn’t be upset.
Being present, listening well and calmly letting your tweenager know you care will establish you as a safe person in their life they can – and want to – talk to.
Hit the road.
Hop in the car, roll down the windows and crank up the tunes. There’s just something about the passing scenery and lack of face to face contact that makes a car journey the perfect setting for tweenagers to open up. (Bonus points for stopping to get a treat along the way!)
Take them out for breakfast.
Treat them to breakfast at their favorite diner on the weekend or even before school starts on some mornings. Let them order what they want, whether it’s chocholate chip pancakes or burgers and fries. Tweenager not a morning person? Try establishing a special weekly night out for pizza or tacos instead.
Catch them at bedtime.
You used to tuck them in every night when they were little. Try taking advantage of their continued resistance to “lights out” and slip into their room for a lighthearted chat at the end of the day. Alternately, invite them into the kitchen to share a bedtime snack with you.
Surprise them after school.
If your tween normally walks home from school or takes the bus, trying showing up early from time to time so you can pick them up yourself. Have their favorite smoothie waiting in the car or make a stop for ice cream on the way home. Treating them to lunch out during the school’s lunch hour is a fun way to surprise them, too, if the school allows it.
Take some time to teach them something new and interesting.
Making lasagna. Waxing the car. Getting to the highest level in the latest computer game. When you take the time to teach your tweenager how to do adult things, you may find they’re more willing to open up to you about what’s going on in their life while you work in tandem.
Establish an open door policy and welcome your kids to bring friends over after school and on the weekend with little notice, for video game sessions, movie marathons or just to hang out. Stock the kitchen with their favorite snacks, set out plenty of games and take on a “more the merrier” attitude when it comes to friends showing up.
One hard and fast rule: no closed doors – equip tweens to set up in a main room of the house, then make yourself present without intruding on their space.
When your house is the one they want to come to, you’ll be able to learn what’s going on in their lives just by overhearing what they’re talking about … And if you show up at just the right time with that plate of cookies or pizza rolls, they might even let you join them for some of the fun.
Jean Holthaus, LMSW, LISW has been providing outpatient therapy services since 1995 when she earned her Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Iowa. She has worked for Pine Rest since 1997. She currently serves as manager of the Telehealth Clinic and the Hastings Clinic and is also a Pine Rest Outpatient Regional Director.