Parenting any age is hard. And I don’t have any experience with teens (yet! 13 is arriving in a month), but I do have a few tips on dealing with those amazing, yet trying, tween years:
Be firm … with affection.
Tweens might fight you about limits placed on them, but they appreciate knowing the boundaries. They like having rules. Even the ones that claim “everyone else is XYZ” may secretly be glad they have an “out” from invitations. Be consistent in enforcing discipline though. When you make a rule, stick to it.
Don’t expect them to be perfect
This might be hard, but don’t live vicariously through your tween and then get disappointed when they aren’t exactly how you want them to be. Don’t talk about your old report card or your track & field record. Accept the fact that each child is a little different from you, and embrace the difference! Guide them knowing that there’s bound to be a few bumps here and there. You’re not perfect, so don’t expect perfection from them either.
Make their friends welcome at home
Don’t be a super snot about their friends coming over. Be available to host anyone at any time (within reason!). You want your tween to want to be at their own house, not crave to escape. This is setting up success for the teen years when it’s crucial to keep a pulse on your kid’s social life. Know your pantry will be raided, so be sure to stock up on drinks, fresh fruit, and frozen pizza.
Don’t forget to pat them on the back
Tweens need compliments! (Don’t we all?) They need to know they’re great! The tween years are hard on self-esteem, so letting them know now (before the teen years) that they are great humans is critical. Show interest in what’s going on. Tell them, “Good job! I’m proud of you.” Spend more time encouraging the good than punishing the bad.
Give them time to be alone
This one is hard for me. We had a daughter that went from loving to be with us to preferring her own room. We literally missed seeing her face. But time alone is good for them to process their feelings, their confusing bodies, and their own thoughts. Don’t go barging into their room unannounced; knocking first is treating them with respect, but also showing them that it’s reciprocal. If mom and dad have their door closed, it means they too need to knock and respect privacy.
Keep the lines of communication open
You might be thinking “duh” but this one is a bit harder than it seems. We as parents mess this one up because we cut the line of communication with interruptions. Let them talk! Don’t make suggestions to “fix problems.” Don’t laugh off any of their “problems” either. Everything is important to a tween, so just stop and listen to what they are actually saying to you.
Tweens pick up the newest trends faster than you think. Stop and pay attention to what’s what. Download and learn the newest app. Pick up the slang (or at least learn the lingo!). Understand what’s currently fashionable (hello stone washed jeans. again.). Remember back to when you were a tween (teen, too!) and you felt like your parents were completely out of it when it came to popular things. Don’t be like that! Be the “cool” parent. (Do they even say “cool” anymore?!)
Make them feel wanted
This is different from showing love. Wanting them means that you accept them. You give them household responsibilities and expect them to be done. It’s letting them know you depend on them. Tweens crave to be a part of the family team. Show them that you want them on the team.
Give direct answers to direct questions
Answer with the same frankness with which you were asked the question. Don’t elaborate past their maturity level. Sex? Let’s talk about it. Puberty? Let’s chat. Interest in the opposite sex? Have those tough conversations. But tell it like it is. Don’t lie and don’t use slang terms. Say your answers with love and patience. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so, but then look it up! You want to the be the Google of the family, not the real Google. At some point, realize your tween will probably quote you on something!
Never let your love be doubted
Don’t put conditions on your love. Don’t limit your affection. Tweens need to know that no matter what, you love them. Don’t engage in a verbal exchange with your tween on how much love they owe you because of what you’ve done for them. Don’t cop an attitude when they don’t show you love either. Just keep on loving them. We all need love (and tweens need a bit more).
Let them be kids
… because they still are! As much as they think they’re all grown up (or maybe they hit puberty a bit early and even look older than they are), they are still kids. Let them play in the bounce houses, on the trampoline, have “play dates” with their friends, make crafts at the kitchen table, and watch Disney movies. Limit technology, and encourage outdoor and imaginative play. That family game night they grumble about? Yeah, they secretly love it.
Lead by example
If all else fails, look at your own conduct, both at home and out in public. Don’t argue with each other out in public. Don’t gossip. Watch your tone of voice. Display a life that reveals the result of a daily priority time. I read once that you should lead your family out front with a banner, not from behind with a whip. No matter how much you say, more is caught than taught. Be a leader not a dictator!