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Bonding with my Teen and Tween

By August 30, 2022December 16th, 2022Lifestyle
Bonding with Teens and Tweens

I often feel stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to parenting. This is especially true (and painful) when it comes to parenting and bonding with my teen and tween son and daughter.  My kids are currently 11 and 14, and I’m learning that parenting these ages comes with a whole new set of challenges and rewards.  Raising kids is hard in general, but the teen and tween years are definitely a special version of “hard.” That said, they can also be some of the best and most rewarding times in this journey that is parenting.

As part of this new parenting norm I’m trying to find a balance between how much space to give my kids versus being there for them when they need me the most.  Or, If I am being honest with myself, when I perceive them needing me the most, which is likely less often than in reality. The kids are going through so many challenges during these years that they have a lot on their minds. What I’m learning is that they, while they won’t likely admit it, might need us for support almost as much as they did when they were younger… but in different ways.
I’ve been putting in extra effort to reinforce and, dare I say, grow my bond with the kids. That trust, confidence, and comfort in our relationship might be the difference between unnecessary struggle and a learning moment.  While I am on a journey myself, and am nowhere near a guru in this space, here are several things that seem to be working… so far:
  1. One-On-One Time: My kids have always loved their focused one-on-one time.  It is a period of time where they don’t have to compete for attention with other siblings or the parent distractions of normal life.  It is special. It is just the two of us hanging out. Further, I’ve found that my kids tend to open up a bit more when it’s just the two of us. They have my undivided attention.  Our one-on-one time activities have included shopping, enjoying a walk, going out to eat, working on a craft or project together, board games, or whatever ideas with which they’ve come up. It is best to let them guide the time. I’ve even found myself, controller in hand, playing video games with my son. Imagine that!
  2. Schedule Family Time: In this chaotic time, this has become so important for us.  We always have the good intentions of doing things together as a family, but our busy lives get in the way.  Further, being predictive is critical with tween and teens or they will see the sudden family time as a “chore.” We make a point of putting family time on the calendar.  Because it’s on the calendar, it usually happens.  No surprises… and something to look forward to. For instance, we have a “Family Game Night” on our calendar. Our Alexa reminds us all about every week announcing “Family Game Night starts in 30 minutes!”  Sometimes these games will be longer, drawn-out games, but more often than not it is a game or three of Uno.  The point that we are all making an effort to spend a little time together as a family. A bonus is the kids learn to win and lose. Not me, of course. No way I won’t do all in my power to squash these losers and… wait, I am off point. Moving on.
  3. Find Their “Open Hour”: An “open hour” is the time of day that your child seems to most likely to open up and want to chat.  My son, for example, has always been the most open and raw right at bedtime. Yeah, this likely started out as a stalling tactic, but I used it to my advantage.  I always make a point to lay next to him and just talk. I let him guide the conversation, and it has taken us to many interesting places. I listen a lot… and have learned so much about his hopes, fears, and what keeps him up at night and gets him out of bed in the morning.
  4. Don’t Over-React: Honestly, I have work to do here. This is one that I am always working on, trying to get better, as it goes against how I am wired.  I used to be an actress, so big emotions are in my blood.  I am constantly making an effort to right-size my emotions to the moment, but it is tough.  When I overreact, it really makes my kids want to shut me out because, over time, it is hard to tell a normal reaction from an over-reaction. The worst thing I can do if they take the risk of opening up to be is to blow it out of proportion.  Calm, cool, and collected always comes out on top when dealing with teens and tweens. Everything we do and say should reinforce the trust and confidence in our relationship.
  5. Be an Active Listener: Yes, this one sounds obvious, but I need to remind myself of it all of the time. Listening to your kids is a signal to them that you respect their ideas and points of view.  The more you listen, the more they will talk. The more they talk, the more you will learn. The key here is not to do the normal parental mode of listening. You know what I am talking about. They are talking to you, and you have the illusion of listening, but in reality you are thinking about the other 100 stressful things you need to wrangle. No, active listening requires focus. You need to hear and process the words. This means not immediately going into solution mode. It means them knowing they have been heard.
  6. Do What They Enjoy: Remember how I mentioned that I found myself playing video games with my son? Yeah, I met him where he is most comfortable. This one sometimes pains me, but also sometimes surprises me.  I am pretty sure I won’t probably ever be found proactively playing Minecraft or Roblox, but I will play it with them because they love it.  It’s a way to show interest in what they are into. Further, I’ve found that there are middle grounds. While I am not a huge video game player, I love board games and word games. Enter Jackbox Tv! This is pretty much a set of board games, my jam, played on a TV with your phones as remotes, their jam. We both win, and it is a lot of fun!
  7. Find Something You All Enjoy: As the kids have gotten older, finding common ground has gotten harder. Everyone has their own interests and hobbies, and often their circles do not intersect.  Still, there is usually something you all enjoy.  It may not be obvious, but it does exist… find it. These experiences could be as easy and simple as watching movies or cooking together. Our family watches a lot of media together.  One of our bigger common bonds is Disney.  We’ve been a Disney family since the kids were born, and it’s something we all enjoy.  As a family, we make a point of planning a Disney trip at least once a year. Or twice. Or three times. Who am I kidding, I want to live in the castle and eat nothing but churros.
  8. Give Them Space: Oh my god… this one kills me. Sometimes, and I know this sounds crazy, kids just want to be left to their own schemes. These schemes may not include you. Give them that space, because doing so will earn you the right to do all of the other things I’ve discussed. They are on a journey. As scary as it sounds, much of that journey won’t, and shouldn’t, include the parents. They need to know they can fail… and recover from that failure. Let them. It will show you that, hey, you did a pretty good job thus far. They’ve got this.

What are some ways that you bond with your kids?  I would love to hear all about them as I am always looking for new ways to connect.  If you want to read about one of our favorite family bonding experiences check out my post about our cross country road trip.

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