My daughter turned 10 a few months ago, and while the tween years are technically between the ages of 9 to 12, this particular birthday felt important, auspicious. We are tiptoeing over a line, she and I. As I move through this next season of motherhood, more than anything I want my daughter to keep talking to me. This priority informs all of my actions these days. At least for me, the difference between relating to a 10-year-old and to an 8-year-old is far wider than the two year gap would suggest. I have a few recommendations to share on communicating with tweens:
1. Listen. While I believe this is true from day one of parenting, it feels even more crucial now. Sometimes when I bite my tongue and just wait, she keeps talking -- haltingly -- and something important comes out. If our conversations used to consist of my talking 50% of the time, that percentage has gone down. I try to sit still and be quiet, and in so doing to carefully encourage her to keep speaking.
2. Be slow to judge. My daughter is particularly sensitive, I think, but all children are highly attuned to our reactions. This can be as small a thing as tone of voice. I've noticed that my daughter is quicker to shut down these days, and so it is especially important for me to moderate my responses and the pitch of my voice. I'm being extra careful not to do anything to make her feel criticized.
3. Keep up traditions. My daughter still likes to be tucked in. She still likes to bake cookies. I have a fierce belief in the power of traditions to ground children, and in a way I think that the things that we have "always" done give my daughter the space to still be a kid. As much as she wants to be a grown-up, as much as she yearns to be a teenager, I know there's a part of her that wants deeply to still be a kid. The traditions of our family give her a place where this is allowed and protected. So this year we did our traditional tree decorating, the usual cookie decorating afternoon with Christmas carols, and we still go for regular evening walks around the neighborhood.
4. Give extra space. While my instinct is always to fix something right away, and while my mother heart feels bruised when my daughter responds emotionally or turns her back, I have learned that sometimes all she needs is some time to think things through and to cool down. Instead of pushing for a continued conversation or an immediate resolution, sometimes it works better for me to trust that everything will be okay and give her some space to breathe. This is not easy for me, but it is something I need to keep working on.
There are many, many joys to parenting a tween. I'm often struck by the young woman my daughter is becoming, and watching her maturation is a source of immense pride. It feels like new terrain under my feet, though, and these four principles help guide me as I stumble on my way through.
Do you have other recommended advice when it comes to parenting tweens? Feel free to share in the comments below.
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