Your child is entering the preteen years and will be exploring new thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Are you feeling frustrated with some of the changes you’re seeing in your child? Do you feel less control or influence over your child’s life?
Does your preteen sometimes choose to just not listen?
You’re in for a lot of surprises that may leave you feeling frustrated, scared, or just plain stumped about what to do to get through to your preteen.
This is the perfect time to get yourself grounded in this five part strategy for getting your preteen to listen to you.
These tips will keep you focused on what matters and what works for communication with your child or preteen.
1. Make your message clear and simple.
If you’re like most parents, sometimes your rules, feelings, questions, etc., can be inconsistent or unclear. It creates confusion and frustration for your preteen. The best way to make things clear and simple is to become a united front as parents. You’ll keep appropriate boundaries and rules if you and your co-parent prioritize your own communication first. If this just isn’t an option, connect with the parent of another preteen to keep yourself accountable. You’re making your best effort, so don’t let yourself feel that you’re in this all alone!
The preteen and teen years will bring many new challenges. Don’t panic when your teen surprises you with a mistake or problem that concerns you – whether it’s trying out a new curse word or trying a new recreational drug. Manage your reactions and express emotions responsibly in order to maintain your teen’s trust. That will set up the situation in a way that gives you a great chance to be heard by your child or preteen.
The bottom line is, if your message is inconsistent, it will be ignored!
2. Create moments daily.
If there is a healthy connection between you and your preteen, he or she will want to hear your words.
As a parent, you may feel that the connection you once had with your child is starting to slip away. This is quite common. It’s often explained as being merely your teen gaining independence, but this is not the whole story. The teen and preteen years are confusing and overwhelming in various ways, and that can cause your child to isolate too much.
Give your child his or her space, and also plan out moments in the morning, afternoon, and evening to touch base. Your child may be less interested in spending the whole day with you, but what really matters is the little moments in the day that define your relationship.
As an example, affection will not disappear if you simply allow them to shift and to be expressed in different ways. You child may no longer want to kiss you goodbye, but might share in a hug or a high five when his soccer team wins a game. Let your child’s behavior guide you to help you understand where these changes are happening. Focus on being available.
… Are you willing to put down the phone, the iPad, and the laptop, and be available? Give it a try, especially if you want your child to ever do the same.
3. Walk alongside your preteen with curiosity to instill confidence.
Rather than speaking down to your teen or trying to pull them forward, try to see things from his or her perspective. For example, if your preteen’s grades are struggling, it might feel natural to take over all of the decisions in order to force the work to happen. Or maybe you just tend to lecture.
Instead, set a time to problem solve with your preteen and open up a conversation to share multiple suggestions together. If you do this, your preteen may also feel more comfortable to share about things that may be contributing to his or her struggles. Kind curiosity and a peaceful presence are your strongest tools for connecting with your preteen, as they allow you to share in the sorrow and joy together as he or she grows up.
Take a breath a fresh air knowing that you don’t have to have all the answers, and that you can be a guide and a teammate for your tween.
4. Focus on what you can do (and pick your battles).
Your teen may be overwhelmed by the messages that you convey for one of these three reasons:
1. You’re trying to control things that are meant to be your teen’s decision
2. Your messages are negative and focus on what’s going wrong rather than on finding solutions, or
3. There are too many messages.
For example, if you are concerned about your child’s eating habits, be sure that you’re modeling a reasonable level of healthy eating and that there are many healthy and flavorful options at home. Never criticize your child’s appearance or choices; instead, encourage healthy choices that you see him or her making already.
If you give yourself credit for doing your part, you’ll be able to let go of the things that you can’t control and focus on the decisions that you can and must make (like how you speak to your preteen and which rules are negotiable or not).
5. Treat the problem, not the symptom.
Her overt behavior may in fact be your preteen exhibiting the communication problems that involve the whole family.
She is acting out the underlying stress within the dynamic of your family, so make sure you aren’t letting her become the “identified patient.” Instead, take it as a cue to get everyone involved in improving listening skills, using respectful language, and creating encouraging interactions.