Today I have been a mom for eleven years. I was a step-mom before that but nothing really prepared me for that moment when they placed Evan in my arms. Parenting another person is one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. As he gets older, I’m looking for ways to bond with my tween in hopes that it makes the teen years easier (yeah, yeah, I know…I’m delusional).
Some of these are mine and some were shared over on the Merry About Town FB page. They are all worth a try. As with anything, do what works with YOUR child. They aren’t all the same (just like adults aren’t).
Tips for Bonding With Your Tween
Look for the YES
I am going to start with this one because it is the hardest for me. When Evan asks me for something or to do something, I knee jerk to no. I am not proud to admit that. Often when Evan asks me to do something, it requires time or money or both. Saying no means I can just keep doing what I am doing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help Evan and I in the long run. So I’m working to find the yes. If there isn’t a safety reason or it doesn’t cost 1 beeelion dollars, I try to say yes if I can. Hearing yeses is important to a tween!
Some examples of this are our guinea pigs. He wanted a new pet. He asked for a pug. I said no to the pug because they shed and a dog is a lot of work. Instead, I suggested he come up with another pet idea. When he said “guinea pigs” I wasn’t sure it was a good fit but instead of saying “no”, I said “Let’s research it”. Now we have two guinea pigs that the whole family loves.
Other examples are agreeing to let him make weird and wild “recipes” that he makes up in the kitchen, letting him try to make a bouncy egg science experiment (tho it led to gross egg cleanup outside) and much more.
Take the time to listen
Evan is a talker. He talks a LOT. I admit that sometimes I tune him out. Especially when he is telling me the minute details of his latest Minecraft build. Lately, I’ve been making a conscious effort to listen more often. I ask that he gets done with what he is doing and then he can show me. This helps cut down on the one million little conversations and instead we can do it all at once. I get to see it all at once (which helps me understand since I don’t play) and I can ask him questions. The look of pride in his eyes when he gets to tell me all about his mission or build is worth it for sure. Hopefully he remembers that I listened as a tween when he is a teenager and thinks I am the absolute worst.
Enjoy a side-by-side activity or ride
This suggestion may sound a little weird, but I’ve learned that Evan opens up more when we aren’t looking at one another. When we take a walk, ride a bike or ride in the car it is easier for him to talk to me. We’ve had great conversations about all kinds of topics from race to gender to school to feelings. Putting together a puzzle or other side-by-side activities work too.
As a society, we harp on eye contact but I find that eye contact does not make it easy for kids (or most adults) to open up about hard topics.
Be the friend house
Having an only child means that if Evan is by himself he is MUCH more likely to be bored and want me to entertain him. We let him invite kids over to the house pretty much as much as he wants. This means we know his friends and we get to hang out with them too. These days it isn’t such a big deal because they are all little but I want this to continue into his teen years. The reasons? 1. I know his friends and they know me. This means they are less likely to do things that they know I will be mad about. 2. They talk when they are together even if you are there. They forget and you can learn all kinds of stuff about what they think, where they are in growing up and more.
Let them do things for you
As parents, we are used to doing things for our kids but we don’t always let them do things for us. I get it, Evan NEVER makes my coffee right but he LOVES making it for me. So I drink really sweet coffee occasionally so he can be happy he made it for me.
Do things one-on-one
Having an only child makes this one really easy for me but one on one time is important no matter how many kids you have. Kids don’t want to talk about the tough stuff when their siblings are around. Go somewhere together, do something new or something they love. It will mean so much to them and you never know what conversations might happen!
Talk about the hard things….even if you think they aren’t listening
We listen to a LOT of NPR and CBC in the car. We also listened to Hidden Figures, Wonder and other books about racism and culture as audio books. Evan often seems not to be listening but when I ask what he thinks about things like racism, gender, immigration and more he has very definite opinions. Talk about the things you feel are important and help them come to their own opinions. The ability to listen to things and form opinions is a life skill that they will need. It has helped us talk through current events around the world and why they matter.
Share a chore
Lots of bonding can happen when you make house work a shared chore. My friend Dana mentioned on the FB page that some of her best bonding was over hand washing dishes with her kids. They could talk about all kinds of stuff and goof around a bit. It’s so important to show kids that parents can be fun and goofy too…not just stern and serious.
While I often talk to Evan about being grateful, I don’t currently have a method for teaching gratitude. One FB reader mentioned that she does a gratitude journal with her daughter. I love this idea so much. It makes you take the time to find 3 things you are grateful for and write them down. Then, when times are tough, you can always look back on the things you are grateful for.
It goes without saying, right? Figure out what makes your kid feel special and do that sometimes. As they get older, this will often go seemingly unnoticed but it is still important. I’m not saying spoil them. Rules and consequences are important so they grow up into responsible adults. But through it all, help them remember that you love them and support them. It will help them in the difficult times that we all go through as humans.
And before you think I am saying I have all the answers, know that I am currently sitting here listening to Evan play on his Nintendo Switch while exalting how his character is MUCH better than his friends. We’ll be pausing the bonding and talking about how comparisons are not always appreciated when you do them non-stop. It’s a process, right? Happy tween parenting!