"How was your day?" -- How Not to Talk to Your Tween

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Studies show that the emotional development of a child at the tween stage marks the beginning of a journey toward independence, and a progression toward identifying more with a peer group than with parents. In other words, your tween may not want to share his or her innermost thoughts with you anymore, making it very difficult for you to get a conversation rolling.

But here's why it's very important for you to maintain good communication with your secretive tween. Psychologists find that when parents are aware of what their children are up to, and the children know the parents are aware, the children are less likely to engage in negative behavior like drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency, violence and teen pregnancy.

There's no "one size fits all" strategy to talk to your tween. However, there are certainly some rules of thumb and general tips on how to keep the lines of communication open. There are also some universal truths about what not to say to your tween.

Let's discuss what you shouldn't say to your tween first.

What to Avoid When Talking to Your Tween

You know how it is with adolescents -- one random remark can shut them down for good and you're left talking to an empty room. We're not telling you to avoid certain subjects altogether, though. Ideally, you should be able to ask your tween about nearly everything. The art is finding the best way to approach him or her. Here's how you shouldn't do it:

  • Ask rote questions: Asking your tween the same thing every single day, the exact same way, doesn't make you seem interested. It actually comes across as insincere. You know how you automatically say, "Hi, how are you?" to a co-worker or neighbor in passing? It's the same sort of thing with your tween. Eventually your tween is going to think you're not really listening if you distractedly ask the same question every afternoon.
  • Ask open-ended questions: If you ask a question like, "Did you have a good time?" you'll likely receive a curt "yes" and that's it. You're more likely to elicit an honest (and interesting!) response if you phrase the question more like this: "What was your favorite moment of the party?"
  • Interrupt: You hate to be interrupted -- so why would you do it to your kid? Even if you're 100 percent sure you know what your tween is going to say, interrupting comes across as disrespectful and makes it seem like you're not really interested in what your child has to say.
  • Dismiss your child's feelings: Your tween's soliloquy about Justin Bieber or her long-winded explanation about how you-would-not-believe-what-Christine-said-to-me-today might seem boring and unimportant. But don't tell her that she'll "get over it" or ask him to "get to the point." Your child's feelings are very real and very deep, even if they seem silly to you.

Now we know the wrong way to talk to your tween. Next, let's talk about the right way.

How to Talk to Tweens

These two look like they're having an amiable conversation over breakfast.
These two look like they're having an amiable conversation over breakfast.
Stockbyte/Thinkstock

Sometimes it might feel like your tween speaks a completely different language, one that you'll never quite understand. However, there are ways to get past that wall and engage in an open, honest conversation with your kid -- or at least in a way that won't end with stomping feet and slammed bedroom doors.

  • Listen actively: Like we said on the previous page, nobody likes to be interrupted. Listen to your child when he or she talks -- really listen. This means turning off the TV, putting down the ironing and closing your e-mail. Tweens need to know that their thoughts are important enough for you to pay full attention.
  • Create opportunities to communicate: Don't formally schedule talks, but use different opportunities to start talking. Some kids like to talk in the car, while you drive them to school. Or, each night at dinner, have everyone go around the table and talk about the best and worst parts of their days.
  • Acknowledge your tween's point of view: Sometimes your child isn't coming to you for advice -- he or she may just be looking for your approval on the way the situation was handled. You can say things like, "Wow, that must have been a really tough decision," or "I think you did the right thing," to help boost your child's self-esteem in decision-making skills.
  • Be patient and don't overreact: Not every discussion you have with your tween is going to end well. Your tween may have done something you don't agree with. Still, let your child have her or his say. Listen to the entire story before casting your final opinion. Stand firm on what you believe is appropriate behavior, but instead of yelling or getting worked up, ask questions like, "What do you think about what you did?" You don't want your child to feel anxious or prematurely judged. Make sure you reward his or her openness, or your tween may start keeping secrets.

Good communication with your tween is a great investment in the future of your relationship. Teaching him or her to be open and honest sets the stage for future communication when your child is a teen, and even an adult.

For more about tweens and family, check out the links on the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Borba, Michele. "Surefire Ways to Turn OFF Your Teen." Shine. July 6, 2010. (Dec. 27, 2010) http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/parenting/surefire-ways-to-turn-off-your-teen-1954428
  • "Communicating with your older child." Supernanny.com. Feb. 13, 2008. (Dec. 27, 2010) http://www.supernanny.com/Advice/-/Your-tween-and-teen/-/Tween-and-teen-care/Communicating-with-your-older-child.aspx
  • "Familiar with tweens? You should be…" Quebec Tourism Intelligence Network. Feb. 9, 2007. (Dec. 27, 2010) http://tourismintelligence.ca/2007/02/09/familiar-with-tweens-you-should-be/
  • Jayson, Sharon. "It's cooler than ever to be a tween, but is childhood lost?" USA Today. Feb. 4, 2009. (Dec. 27, 2010) http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-02-03-tweens-behavior_N.htm
  • Linnell, Christina. "The Four B's to Communicating with your Tween." Examiner.com Austin. Oct. 18, 2010. (Dec. 27, 2010) http://www.examiner.com/parenting-tweens-in-austin/the-four-b-s-to-communicating-with-your-tween
  • Lowenstein, David. "Communicating with Your Tween." Lowenstein & Associates. 2010. (Dec. 27, 2010) www.drlowenstein.com/_data/user_docs/Comm_with_tween.pdf
  • Mersch, John. "Tween: Child Development (9-11 Years Old)." MedicineNet.com. 2011. (Jan. 4, 2011) http://www.medicinenet.com/tween_child_development/article.htm