He no longer wants to hold your hand in public; instead, he walks five paces ahead of you through the mall. Stories of his day no longer tumble out the minute he walks through the door; instead, he’s more likely to grab a cookie and head for the computer. If you try to give him a hug, nine times out of 10, he shrugs it off.
Tweens often want to put distance between themselves and their parents. Teresa Bouchard, an occupational therapist specializing in parent education in Kelowna, BC, says this is part of healthy development, as kids begin to shape identities separate from their families. “Parents are still on the burner, but they’re being moved to a back burner,” she says.
The challenge is to become more proactive about staying close. Quality time together, open communication, encouraging talks and lots of affection are still the basic building blocks, but you will need some new strategies and you’ll probably have to work harder to stay connected.
Remember that kids still want their parents to be close, but they want more control in the relationship. As the storm of puberty begins to play with hormones and affect moods, tweens look to their parents for help with coping with strong feelings and understanding relationships, says Bouchard.
Here are her suggestions for keeping the bond strong:
Be there. Kids are more likely to open up “when we’re nearby but not in their faces,” says Bouchard. Say your daughter comes in, throws her backpack in the corner and slumps on the couch. Rather than demand that she hang up her pack, try sitting down in a chair nearby and just waiting. You’re sending the message that you’re concerned she’s upset and ready to listen when she wants to talk.
Ask open-ended questions. “Closed questions — those that can be answered with a yes or no — get closed answers,” says Bouchard. “‘What did the guys do at the break today?’ is more likely to get a response than ‘Did you eat your lunch?’”
Asking about other people’s experiences is another way to draw kids out (“What did Samuel think of the movie?”).
Find time. Whether a weekly breakfast date or movie night, one-on-one time is extra important now, especially if there are other siblings in the family. Bouchard recommends finding an interest you can share. If you both love basketball, maybe the two of you can attend a game or just shoot some hoops.
Privacy please! Bedrooms become important private domains at this age. “Knock on the door and ask permission to come in,” advises Bouchard.
Back off on manners. “Hounding kids all the time creates distance rather than connection,” says Bouchard. Pick your battles, even if that means some clothes on the floor and the occasional grumpiness.
Stay in touch. At this stage, kids want the hugs — but on their terms. If you initiate, they’re more likely to resist. Don’t insist. You can ask if they’d like a hug, says Bouchard. “There are all kinds of ways to be affectionate — a high-five, a nudge or a wink. They’re fun, they’re not obvious to other people, and they still make the connection.”