It was a Monday morning and I walked on the track at the YMCA with my 8-year-old as we waited for my younger son to finish swim lessons. I grabbed his hand to get him to move over to my lane as someone passed us. We walked and held hands for a bit until he began to demonstrate how a baseball player dumped Gatorade onto the winning team’s head after a game. It was a sweet moment and I wondered how long he would let me hold his hand like that as he would be starting 3rd grade soon. I thought to myself, “Please let me hold your hand a little bit longer!” It seemed like he had grown a foot over the summer. While he still loved imaginative play, he was starting to become more interested in Minecraft and fantasy football. It’s no exaggeration that once your child starts elementary school, the time seems to fly by in the blink of an eye.
We are in that easy spot right now where my son enjoys spending time with his parents, but is old enough to go on playdates without us and can make his own sandwiches. The fighting at our house is normally at a minimum and involves teeth brushing or cleaning up legos. It’s hard to believe he’ll be a tween soon, though!
What is a tween? Usually defined as the stage between ages 9-12 years old, children experience a wide variety of changes during this time, including body, social and identity changes. So how do you stay connected to your child during this time of changes? I have found that I must make a conscious effort to connect with him or I will continue being in a state of denial where I flip through my son’s baby books and cry into my Pinor Noir! I also polled moms who are currently going through or have been though the tweens and teens with their kids and I’m including some of their “tried and true” advice.
Make Talk A Priority
After school, I would normally ask my son about his day and receive the same standard answer. “It was fine.” This gave me zero information to continue our conversation. I had to start asking questions differently. I began asking things like, “What was something funny that happened to you today?” or “How were you a good friend to someone today?” and I discovered he would open up more. And when he initiates discussions around topics he is interested in, I force myself to listen, no matter how boring I find the topics. At bedtime, sometimes I literally have to prop my eyes open as he is telling me about Minecraft. When he tells me how he is the fastest runner on his baseball team because of his big calf muscles, I want to laugh, but instead nod encouragingly and let him keep sharing. I love the idea one mom shared with me that their family has three questions they always ask their kids at dinner every night (what are the best, worst and funniest or strangest parts of your day?). When the kids’ friends come to dinner, they have to answer, too. Or give shared journaling a try! Agree on a way to share the journal with your child (perhaps placing under the other’s pillow when ready to share). Put in the effort and time to communicate!
Actively Spend Time Together
Honest talk: I am 38 years old and 5 months pregnant. It is a challenge for me to pick up laundry off the floor at this point, but finding ways to intentionally spend time together away from screens is super important for kids! I am not necessarily talking about anything strenuous. This could mean having a family board game night with no phones, going on a walk or having a dance party in the living room. An after-dinner golf cart ride around our neighborhood is an instant mood lifter in my house. My favorite time this summer with my son was helping him with batting practice. I would feed the ball into the machine while he practiced hitting and it was a great way to spend time with him being active.
Maybe your child loves cooking, building or drawing. Find a hobby he is interested in and be open to ways to practice it together. My son enjoys cooking and often asks me if we can try out different recipes. I had never made cream puffs in my life, but when he asked to make them, you bet I spent all day trying to help him perfect those delicious little puffs. And when they ended up being flat as a pancake, we both laughed so hard! I want to take advantage of this stage when my son still wants to spend time with me, so I often let him take the lead on activities we do together. A fantastic idea that was mentioned to me was having days called “life lesson” days with your child. Make a learning into a way to spend quality time together. Believe it or not, your child will (hopefully!) leave home one day and need to do things like load the dishwasher, pump gas, use an ATM and know the difference between a debit and credit card. Practice doing these together!
This is the hardest one for me since I also have a 5-year-old who requires more of my attention. I look for opportunities to spend time with my older son one-on-one, even for short increments. This might be a short walk together during his brother’s swimming lessons, reading Harry Potter out loud in the hammock while my younger son is resting or a planned one-on-one date night with him. Something I heard repeatedly from experienced moms was the importance of “side-by-side” time. Allow space for conversations to flow while driving with your child to get ice cream, while sitting outside after dinner on the deck, or on the drive to/from from baseball practice. Sit in the car in the driveway a bit longer after arriving home from piano lessons if your child seems ready to share.
While it can be difficult at times to leave behind your child’s baby and toddler years, I’m looking forward to forming deeper connections with my boys during this special time!
How you do you stay connected with your tween?