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How Parents Can Better Connect with Preteens

Open dialogue and trust will be crucial during these developing years.    

Mother kissing teenager on the cheek

Being a parent means learning the best way to connect with your child at each stage of his or her life. But for both adults and children, communicating can be more challenging in certain years than others. Case in point: the excitingand emotionally turbulentyears of puberty.

The preteen stage is a time of growth, reflection, and rebellion for many children,says Amy Cooper HakimPh.D. Children that age are on the cusp of their teenage years,yet theyre still young enough to yearn for approval from their parents and caregivers.

Here, Hakim offers her tips on how to help strengthen the connection between you and your preteen.

Establish boundaries
By around age 11 or 12, the preteen in your life might want to spend more time with his or her friends and less time with family. Thats completely normal, according to Hakim.

But does that mean you should try to act more like a friend? Definitely not. "At the preteen stage, children are still longing for an authority figure to establish boundaries, and for guidance on how to make good choices that fit within those boundaries,says Hakim.

The age of smartphones and social media platforms have made it more difficult for parents to provide that guidance, since so much of their lives takes place online. But there are ways to insert yourself into that world without snatching the phone out of your preteens hands and hiding it away.

Walk up to her, demonstrate real interest, and ask her to show you," Hakim suggests. Is there a particular game or video shes watching that you could ask her about? But if you see something questionable, Hakim advises that its important to bring it up. 

Pay attention
Establishing a regular flow of dialogue with a preteen isnt always the easiest thing to do. But when he or she does come up to you with something to say, dont waste the moment. When your child comes up to you to talk or share something, stop what you are doing and look at him or hereven if the timing is inconvenient,says Hakim. Lead by example. Take your eyes away from electronics and focus solely on the interaction.

Find common interests
Spending time with your preteen without being in front of a screen is essential for a strong relationship. So if you haven't found an activity that you both enjoy doing together, now is the time. "If you dont have a shared hobby, try different activities and find something that you like to do together," says Hakim. "Humans thirst for real human interaction, so give this to your preteen. Laugh and have fun together."

One hobby youd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesnt like, regardless of age? Eating really, reallygood food. Scan the local news or Yelp for new, trending restaurants in your area and suggest a dinner date with your preteen.

Maintain an open dialogue
Make sure the preteens in your life know they can come to you when they're having an issueno matter what it may be. "Open communication is critical," says Hakim. "Remember that maintaining an open dialogue now is the key to having that open dialogue in the teenage years and beyond."

A big part of that is making sure your preteen knows that he or she will have your support no matter what. Still, relationships are built on trust, and your preteen trusts you to lead him or her down the right path. "Remind your child that you will always love him, even if you disagree with his choices sometimes," Hakim continues. "Be firm yet gentle as you set and maintain boundaries."