How to stay connected with your kids into the teen years

As a parent, I thought the baby years were the hardest. They certainly were new and sleep-deprived, but as my children grow, I’m learning that every stage of parenting has its own struggles.

We’ve been through starting daycare, then school, and dealt with some learning difficulties as my oldest moved into those middle-elementary years where more work is expected. Now I have a teen and a tween on my hands.

But you know what? I’ve done a lot of growing too. Dealing with all the ages and stages so far has taught me some things, and I know moving into the teen years will teach me even more.

Farewell to our daycare
My babies, Emma and Rose, in 2016 – back when I was firmly in the no-sleep, baby and toddler years.

I’ve also been doing my research (read: following moms who are further ahead on the journey, and listening to their experiences and advice), and I have some ideas on how to stay connected with our kids as they move further into the growing up turmoil that is the teenaged years.

My first tip is for the young parents out there: Listen to, and engage with, your kids. No matter what they’re telling you. Or if they’ve already told this story one hundred times.

Being present with them when they want to tell you trivial things shows that you are interested in their lives, and will be there to listen later in life when things aren’t so trivial.

I have a daughter who talks all the time. And I do find it difficult to be present for her at all times. We have set some boundaries around when it’s appropriate to interrupt, and how we can make the right time to connect, but the important thing is for the child to feel heard – whether in the moment, or when the time is right.

With luck, she will continue to be a chatty daughter, and will come to me with her problems or feelings as she grows.

Another important idea while raising kids into the teen years: Make sure you are modelling behaviour you want to see, and sharing your own emotions.

This can be tough. As parents, we feel like we need to be in control at all times. But let’s be honest – we’re not. We’re learning as we go. We get our feelings hurt when the kids say hurtful things, make poor choices, or choose to spend their time away from us.

It’s how we respond to these things that show our children the kind of people we are. Expressing our feelings of hurt or anger in words shows that we can control these emotions while still experiencing them. So cry, whether you’re happy or sad; be angry and even yell, but apologize and discuss your actions afterward; and talk about it. All of it. Any of it. If you want your kids to come to you with their feelings, be sure to share yours.

Something parents of young children might not be ready for is the closed-doors, no comment, leave-me-alone stage that tweens and teens move into as they grow. My 10-year-old isn’t there yet (and may never be), but my new teenager lives in a doors-closed bedroom all the time now. She lets me come in, but there’s a new level of privacy that wasn’t there before.

Respect your children’s privacy, and provide a level of trust. I’ll be the first to say that this is not easy. Especially if you have one of those kids who was never a chatter, like I do. Now that life is getting more complicated, we want these kids of ours to share their lives, their feelings and their experiences. But they’re not always ready to open up.

Allowing them privacy shows that we care about them and their wellbeing, as well as that we have a level of trust in them. While trust should be earned, if your child has been fairly well-behaved and trustworthy so far, the transition to teenagerhood should not lessen the level of trust you already have.

A few simple ways to allow your child privacy could include:

  • knocking before going into their room, and discussing when it’s appropriate to keep bedroom doors closed;
  • giving them space to talk with their friends, online or over the telephone;
  • asking before looking in or getting things out of their school bag, tote, or purse;
  • checking whether your child wants you to be there when they see the doctor.

Communication is key to maintaining good relationships. This includes the relationships we have with our kids. Make sure to include them in family discussions, and try not to overwhelm them with over-parenting.

Staying open and available, while setting and maintaining comfortable boundaries, will help parents stay connected with their children into the teen years. What are your best tips to stay connected as your children grow up? Leave them in the comments and join the conversation.

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