As a middle school guidance counselor, Louise Hajjar Diamond knows from experience that preteens want to spend time with their parents. They value your opinions and judgement. Staying connected and having an open and positive communication with your preteen helps them build self-confidence and a healthy self-esteem.
When the kids are back in school, it’s a fact of life that they spend most of their time away from home and their parents. Between school, clubs, sports, friends, and other activities, our older children are busy and on the go. Sometimes parents and kids aren’t really relating to each other even when they are spending time together. It is easy for parents to get caught up in all the activities—we can lose sight of enjoying, talking, listening, and connecting with our kids.
It is more important than ever for parents to connect with their pre-adolescent and adolescent children. It is during these years when kids are looking for guidance on potentially life-altering topics. Children in this age group are beginning to form their own values and beliefs. Before leaving elementary school, kids need and want to talk to their parents about relevant topics. Preteens long for guidance from their parents, and they do (sometimes despite outward appearances) value their parents’ opinions, judgment, and most of all, their example.
As a middle school guidance counselor, I’ve had many kids tell me that the most they wanted from their parents was to spend time with them. Preteens and young teens want their parents to really know them as individuals. Kids want to be accepted for who they are and for what they will become. They want to know what their parents think about difficult issues such as smoking, drugs, drinking, and sex. Kids will have questions, and they want answers from their parents. Even when it seems like kids aren’t listening to their parents, they are. Parents are the greatest influence in the lives of their children. Here are some ideas on staying connected and really relating with your maturing child.
Use time wisely.
Many adolescents feel their families don’t listen to or understand them. There is a definite relationship between adolescents who make poor choices and those who have poor communication with their parents.
Family time should be cherished. It seems that parents and young teens are going in opposite directions most of time. After all the basic needs are met, the homework is done, and the activities are completed, there is little time for fun and relating to each other. Reducing play and fun may even seem like a natural consequence of working parents and busy family life. Make the most out of small and simple moments with your kids. Get to know your kids without making assumptions about their perceptions, accomplishments, and their needs and desires.
Select activities and outings with your children where talking and listening can take place. Television and movies may be helpful if they will act as a springboard for conversation. Don’t miss out on those chances. Sharing an after-school snack or meal, folding laundry, or cooking together can be perfect opportunities for conversation. Whenever and wherever you’re alone and relaxed with your preteen can be a great chance to relate and connect.
Listen, and really talk.
Have the courage to bring up tough topics with your growing child. Talk to your kids about the consequences of choices that can harm them. Ask your kids if anyone has ever approached them about smoking or using illegal drugs. Let your kids know how you feel about them using these substances. Resist getting angry if your child tells you they’ve already tried something harmful.
Teach your kids about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, drugs, weapons, and sex. They need to know the facts from you. Remind them all the time that they can come to you any time with a problem or just to talk. Be receptive and listen.
Present open-ended questions to your preteen. Here are some sample openers: What did you and your friends do at the party (concert, game)? Who was there? What did you do in English class today? How do you feel about kids smoking (using drugs, alcohol, and having sex)? What do you think you would do in that situation? What grade do you feel you deserved? What did you learn from this experience? How did you feel when your friend (teacher, coach, crush) didn’t include you? How do you feel about lying (cheating)? Is there something you’d like to tell me or ask me? Try to avoid statements or questions that may make your child respond in a single-word answer that may inhibit conservation.
By presenting open-ended questions to your kids, you’ll get to know what they’re thinking, doing, and feeling. You’ll also have a chance to tell them how you feel about certain important subjects. Remind them that you were once their age. You can share experiences of your youth if you think they will help your child grow and learn.
Preteens and teenagers still need the guidance and support from their parents to gain the skills necessary to make healthy choices. The best tool parents can give adolescents is healthy self-esteem. Self-confidence and healthy self-esteem are fostered by open and positive communication between parent and child.
By staying connected with your kids and being a positive role model, you’ll provide your kids with the tools they need to arm themselves for peer pressure and negative influences. They will be prepared to face and handle tough situations they are bound to encounter during the middle and high school years.
Louise Hajjar Diamond is a guidance counselor, freelance writer, and mother of two. For more of her school resources, check out counselorsclips.com.