Some of the quietest, most unresponsive people in the world are preteens. Your previously blabbermouth daughter clams up when you ask, "How was school?" and your son runs into his room to use the computer after a day hangin' out with his pals. What ever happened to knowing everything your child was doing? Those days are gone ... and rightfully so. The preteen years are the time when kids begin to individuate, have private lives and secrets—most of which are not so bad.
So how do you keep the lines of communication open? Try these tips:
Ask, ask, ask ... and never give up. There are always spurts of information to be had but parents of preteens are constantly walking the fine line between being a nag and letting children know they're genuinely interested in their lives. Try to ask simple answerable questions like "Who'd you have lunch with" or "Who'd you hang with at recess?"
Listen. When your child says, "Mom, there is something I need to tell you," or "You'll never guess what happened at school today," perk up, stop what you are doing and listen! That will let your preteen know that you're always there to listen—because the next time it may be that your child needs some advice or is having a problem for which he needs (and actually wants) your help.
Don't yell or talk down to your preteen. It is important to treat your preteen and what they have to say with respect. Even if you don't like what they have to say, don't yell at them or hurl insults. After all, you don't want them yelling at you!
Seize teachable moments. And use those moments to communicate lessons or values that are important to you to your child. For example, while driving, if a song with themes you disagree with comes on the radio, talk to your child about it. "What do you think about this song? How might it make others feel?"
Give your preteen space. But set ground rules ahead of time. Use email or instant message your preteen if you need to share something that comes to mind while you're in another room on the computer. This beats interrupting your child for things they may think are trivial such as "pack your lunch" or "remember to take your sneakers for gym tomorrow."
Emphasize all communication outlets. You should encourage your preteen to talk to you, an older sibling or other trusted adult in the family if he is having a problem. You should also mention that a teacher, religious leader or parent of a friend could be a resource for some types of advice.
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