Living in the in-between can be an emotional roller coaster. Here’s how to mother your kids when they are tweens, meeting their emotional needs. (This post covers the emotional needs of a tween and is the second part of Mothering Tweens. Read the first part about meeting their nutritional needs!)
By Daja, Contributing Writer
When you think about being a Modern Alternative Mama you think about things like cloth diapers and breastfeeding and what to choose as nutrient dense first foods. But what about when you child outgrows his or her wooden toys and soft leather shoes? What then?
Then comes the tween years. And guess what? Those can be some of the most challenging times for a mom. It’s a time of preparation and change and questions and new experiences. It’s like a second toddlerhood. What are the guiding ways of an alternative mama to navigate the tween years?
Mothering Tweens: Meeting The Emotional Needs of a Tween
I don’t tend to think it terms of rules of parenting. There isn’t a one-sized-fits-all approach. Every child has their own unique needs, desires and temperament. But, I do think there are a few guiding principles, ways, if you will.
As our children start to test their boundaries and flex their freedom there is a tendency in parents to freak out a little. They are less and less little copies of us every day as they grow into their full selves. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we fear that control slipping away. That little seed of fear that it reveals in the hearts of parents can cause us to respond with more control in the form of punishment. This cycle repeated too many times and we, inadvertently can chase away love. We can become disconnected, as the child emotional withdraws from us. One of my “guiding ways” in my parenting journey is to value connection above “being right.”
“When love and freedom replace punishment and fear as the motivating forces in the relationship between parent and child, the quality of life improves dramatically for all involved. They feel safe with each other, and the anxiety that created distance in the relationships is chased away by the sense of love, honor, and value for one another.” (Danny Silk, Loving Your Kids On Purpose)
This is not to say that we try to be our child’s peer, bestie or that we lower the standards of behavior and decency. But, it means that we leave room for the developing person and refuse to give way to fear or to respond from a need to control the other.
“Connection is what gives a relationship purpose.” (Danny Silk, Keep Your Love On)
2. Understanding, Not Agreement.
The goal of communication in any relationship should be that each person feels heard. It should not be the goal that they both agree on the same level. If we make the goal of communication agreement, one person wins and one person loses. The winner feels powerful and the loser feels victimized. A healthy relationship–including a parent-child relationship takes two powerful people who feel understood. We need not agree with our children and they need not always agree with our parenting decisions. But, we should each feel understood. Learn to say, “My heart wants to understand yours, so that we can move towards connection.”
This means that each party–parent and child–are responsible for accurately and appropriately communicating how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Do not make assumptions. Do not assume you know what is going on inside your child’s heart. And don’t allow them to assume they know what is going on inside yours. These tween years are a really great time to build and learn healthy communication skills to carry you through the teen years and into adulthood!
“In a respectful relationship, each person understands, “I am responsible to know what is going on inside me and communicate it to you. I do not expect you to know it, nor will I allow you to assume that you know it. And I will not make assumptions about what is going on inside you.” (Danny Silk, Keep Your Love On)
Our goal as parents is not to impart a strict set of rules, blindly followed. Our goal is to raise young people to adulthood who know how to be responsible for themselves. This includes their bodies, their possessions, their feelings and their choices. This doesn’t start with them going off to college. This starts when they are still in the nest.
We let them make smaller (lower risk) choices and to also experience the repercussions of their choices. For example, I may say, “It’s cold out, I recommend you wear a sweater to the park.” Then leave the child free to wear a sweater or not. But, here’s the clincher. If the child is cold, do not give them your sweater nor run home to get the one they decided not to bring. Letting a child have freedom also means letting them experience the consequences of their actions. Also, model for them the character of an adult who takes responsibility for her own actions and refuses to be a victim. Own your choices.
Ten Things To Do To Meet the Emotional Needs of a Tween
1. Listen with the goal of understanding.
Don’t interrupt, just listen.
2. Have dates that are protected.
This means, if you schedule a shopping trip or a movie night, keep your word. Don’t bump their date to clean the garage, run errands or meet up with your colleagues. Show them that you value their time and presence, too.
3. Unplug and switch off.
Our tech age has made it really easy to have a hundred connections with others that are lite, while neglecting core relationships that go deep. Have time set apart where everyone in the family disconnections from their electronic devices in order to deepen connection with one another.
4. Celebrate stuff.
Even if your child rolls his or her eyes and says, “Mom!” (and mom takes more than 3 syllables…) do it anyway. Celebrate the first school dance, the first paying gig, recitals, completion of goals. You name it, celebrate it.
5. Let them be kids.
I know that sometimes they act so grown-up and responsible. But then they turn around and act like they are five again. Leave room. They are stuck in the in-between.
6. Let them be grown-ups.
I know that sometimes they act like toddlers and you seriously question their maturity. But, then they turn around and do something so mature and admirable. Praise them for it and let them carry more responsibility if they are able and willing.
7. Pray with them and for them.
Whether or not you consider your family religious, nothing drives you to faith like having a budding teen in the house. By praying with them and for them you show them that there is something greater out their than themselves and that they are not alone in their struggles or their triumphs.
Every single night of my childhood and until I grew up and moved out my father said to me at bedtime, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (From the Bible, Number 6:24-26) What a beautiful thought to think right before you go to sleep.
8. Let them fail.
Failure is not the worst thing that can happen to us. In fact, it’s part of every human experience and we would do well to embrace it when it comes our way, learn from it, and move on from it.
9. Give them more responsibility.
Never in human history have we expected so little from young people. Historically (and in most places in the world today even), children have been capable of feeding themselves, entertaining themselves, managing their time, doing various necessary chores, interacting with those younger and those older, etc.
So, don’t expect so little, Mama. They can handle themselves if we expect them to. And your job is to advise, help, support, and help them to steward the life that God has given them. The tween years are just the beginning of that. Your child will show you by their own cues what they are ready for. When they are ready for more responsibility (be it making meals, taking on extra household chores, managing a little more money, whatever) be ready to let go of the reigns just a bit.
10. Be affectionate.
When kids are little parents are usually very liberal with the affection. Hugs, kisses, high fives, snuggles under a blanket while reading bedtime stories, wrestling, fist bumps — all those things. As they get older and they start to pull away a bit, parents sometimes pull away, too. Don’t. If they need space, of course give it to them. But, always be ready and eager to show affection.
It is from you that they will learn (It’s one of those things we model. Caught, rather than taught.) what appropriate affection looks and feels like. I have two teenagers, three tweens, and four little kids (yes, that’s nine). And they all know how to give and receive physical affection appropriately. We like to all pile on the couch and read together. The big ones still climb into bed with us to watch movies or to talk. We hug. And we kiss. We cry on each other’s shoulders. They learn loving boundaries from our actions. So, don’t be afraid to show affection.