Want a closer relationship with your tween? Try this.

In what really and truly feels like the blink of an eye, my little girl is a tween now.  She’s taller than I am. She has shed her rosy cheeks. She sleeps in till noon when allowed. She participates in conversations about current events with a quiet astuteness that takes my breath away.

Depending on where you are in your parenting, my description of my 12-year-old is probably inspiring one of three things right now:

  1. A hand-to-heart “it all goes too fast” moment along with a reflexive reach for pudgy fingers that will wrap around yours.
  2. A nose scrunched-up, hand on my arm declaring your sadness for the little kid no longer wrapped around my leg.
  3. An insatiably curious, “what is that like?!”

I’ve been in all of these camps. As a classroom teacher, I was unable to fathom what kind of magic could be found in teaching older kids. Don’t worry, I found it. But years later, I found myself layered in small children, willing them to stay this exact age, in this exact moment, and unable to predict how purely amazing this next stage age group is.

So just in case you’re in any of these places today, I want you to know that parenting a tween is amazing.

It is, of course, unpredictable and worrisome at times. But as a general rule, it’s fabulous.

There’s a secret to making this switch from nose-scrunching to embracing parenting a tween. An Early Childhood Educator taught it to me years ago and today, I want to tell you what it is and one surefire way to do it.

But first a little bit about our tweens. They are exposed to so much more than we were at their age! The same hormones, schoolwork, balance, and friendship changes that we were faced with in middle school are compounded exponentially by the Internet and all that it has to offer to our children. It makes their access to the world breath-takingly easy; and vice versa.

In the deepest crevices of our parenting hearts, this makes even the least helicopter-ish of us squirm a bit and inch toward protectiveness.

But the truth is that we can’t protect our tweens from their world any more than our moms were able to protect us from ours.

So the best we can do is to create the kind of relationship with them that they know that there is always at least one person in this world who has their back and thinks that they hung the moon—this is something that we can do.

Years ago, with a toddler by my side and a newborn in my arms, this is what that Early Childhood Educator taught me. Let the world teach it’s lessons, be the soft landing. Choose the relationship first.

This feels simple to do when they curl up in our laps, press their chubby cheeks to ours, and tell us that they love us best.

As they get older, this thread becomes … Less obvious. Their reach for us becomes inconsistent, their tone sometimes testy, their behavior surprising at times.

But when I step back and do what my teacher taught me, I see the step-by-step directions to getting there. I also see that thread more clearly.

It’s when she leans in and asks what I’m doing.

When she joins in the “grown up” conversation at a family friend’s house.

When she asks to borrow my shoes.

When she offers to help with dinner.

These threads are different than the ones that connected us when she was little, but they’re there, and they’re important.

I told you in the beginning of this article that I would tell you the secret to making the switch from worrying about parenting tweens to enjoying it.

The answer to this is parenting in a relationship-first way. As in, creating interactions with our children that make it perfectly clear that we’re on their team.

Now I want to tell you one powerful way to do this.

I could go into a laundry list of ways for you to spend time with your tween because cultivating time spent together is vital. Go jogging, read the same book, go on a Frappuccino date, garden, paint.

But I want to go deeper here, because there is a way to make any of these activities effective relationship boosters, and it’s one that many of us miss. It’s also the exact same thing that will make our tweens feel like they’re never alone and that there is always at least one person who is on their side.

This is it:

We need to get the lines of communication between us and our tweens wide (so, so very wide) open. Time spent together is vital, teaching our children that they can come talk to us is even more so.

I have a system to share with you for how I do this.

This is how I get and keep my daughter in the habit of talking to me about the small things, so the when the big things come up—which, of course, they will—she knows that she can talk to me and that she is not alone.

We have an interactive journal, meaning that we write back and forth in it.

Here’s how I set this system up:

  1. Write a note to your tween in a notebook or journal.
  2. Make sure that you date your entry!
  3. At the end of your note, ask for a note back below yours and where she or he would like for you to leave the notebook once you write back again.
  4. Give her or him the notebook, or leave it somewhere where they’re sure to find it.
  5. Be consistent and quick—write back to them as soon as they write to you. Why? Because that line of communication is open and you want to keep it that way!

Some tips for making this successful are:

  1. Ask questions (I have a checklist 52 questions that always get my kids talking. You can have them by clicking right HERE.)
  2. Give your tween a “heads up” in the journal if there’s something big that you want to talk about and offer to write about it first. This is a great way to open a conversation door to a tricky conversation!
  3. ALWAYS write back.
  4. No correcting—this isn’t a skill-teaching time, this is a connection boosting opportunity.
  5. Be flexible. It’s okay—it’s wonderful, even—to tell jokes in your journal or to keep it light. For example, this summer my daughter asked if we could write fiction with each other in our journal. So in one section of our journal this is exactly what we do! She starts a story, stops when she feels like it, passes it to me, and I continue the story. This is so much fun and while not a conversation opener, it is a relationship booster.

Some fun ideas are:

  1. Have a special pen that you keep with the journal. Or two pens—a different color for each of you.
  2. Decorate the cover with photos or a magazine cutout collage.
  3. Shop for the journal together.

I am such a big fan of connecting with our children over activities and time spent together. An interactive journal is a way to take this concept and give it a more direct line toward open communication and relationship boosting. This becomes so important as our children get a little bit older and as what they’re faced with and exposed to become a little bit trickier.

Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online and the TEDx Talk, “Raising A Digital Kid Without Ever Having Been One.” Get her list of 52 Things To Ask Children To Get Them Talking right HERE
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) or any Responsibility.org member.*