In our Winter 2017/18 issue, our Positive Parenting writer, Anna Cole, shared her advice on how to be there for your child during those tricky preteen years. She brings all of her wisdom as a parent educator, researcher, writer, and a certified instructor with Hand in Hand Parenting to this moving article. To learn more about Anna’s work, visit Hand in Hand Parenting with Anna Cole or go to www.handinhandparenting.org.
By Anna Cole
As the trees lose their leaves once again and the ‘dark half of the year,’ as the ancient Celts called it, begins again, I’m reflecting on the long road of parenting. From the moment of conception to that busy, grumpy pre-teen standing in front of you looking for their school shoes, it can seem like a long, long road. ‘Parenting ends with the death of the parent,’ my mother used to say. This saying communicates something of the commitment, protectiveness, attention and ongoing love a parent feels for their infant, then toddler, child, preteen, teen, and finally young adult to full adult.
After ten years or so of walking this road, those of you who are parents of preteens may turn the corner from the early years of parenting and find that you no longer have a warm bundle of enthusiastic hugs and giggles flinging herself at you as you return home from work. You are no longer in such high demand to give piggy-back and horsey rides, and you are no longer hearing the squeals of delight evoked in children by such simple pleasures. This comes with a mix of relief and regret. Our children – as they grown into preteens – don’t need us so much any more, right?
Wrong! They need our love and they need to feel our good attention just as much now as they did when they clung to us, sobbing, on their first day at school. They need to feel our confidence in them, and our conviction that they can find their place in this perplexing and sometimes hostile world. So how do we, who have been on the parenting road now for a decade or more – unpaid, unacknowledged, often unsupported and likely quite exhausted – keep shining our light of love on our preteen? Don’t be deceived: the newfound independence you see in your preteen isn’t a sign that your ‘use by’ date as a parent will soon be up.
The single strongest indicator that an adolescent will reach adulthood without experiencing pregnancy or violence, becoming addicted to drugs or tobacco, or dropping out of school is parent-child connectedness. Together or apart, parents of preteens and teens play a vital role in anchoring their growing child in emotional soil that will help them thrive. Here’s something you can try in your homes with children of any age to stay connected amidst the rush of the everyday.
Set aside time, each day if possible, and weekly at the absolute minimum, to clear your mind, turn off your phone, and stop working, checking emails or clearing up the house. Be fully, warmly delighted in your preteen. Use a timer and give the space you are creating a name: ‘Mum and Me Time’ or simply ‘Special Time.’ Follow your child’s lead with an open heart and an ‘anything goes’ attitude. You are still the adult and you still get to say a warm but clear ‘no’ if risks are introduced that would impact safety.
For that fifteen minutes, or half an hour or so, your preteen gets to feel you, fully there, warmly present with them and for them. You put your adult concerns to one side, and don’t bring any of your stuff about chores not yet done to your preteen. During ‘Special Time’, gently and warmly offer eye contact or a hand on the back and be there fully for your child. Your warm attention is a healing balm for your preteen’s nervous system, often ragged from a long day of peer group interactions and inevitable jostlings for position at school.
If you’ve never tried this before and your preteen resists your warm attention or pooh-poohs your ‘Special Time,’ try doing it unannounced. Imagine they’ve just got home from school, you are working from home, and you hear them come in. Get up from your laptop and put your phone down. Go and warmly greet them. Shine delighted-in-them attention their way. You can glance at a watch or a clock as you begin and silently commit to keeping your attention with your preteen for the next five to fifteen minutes.
You’ll be surprised at the results. At first you may get a teasing and an incredulous ‘what’s wrong with you?’ from your preteen. This is a measure of the distance between this warm, uncomplicated attention from you, and the other times when you were distracted or demanding something from them. Roll with it, respond playfully, and contact in your own body the ache of the preteen longing for the same kind of affectionate attention they received when they were a sweetly exuberant four-year-old.
Anna Cole, PhD, is a parent educator, researcher, writer, and a certified instructor with Hand in Hand Parenting. She can be found on Facebook at: Hand in Hand Parenting with Anna Cole. www.handinhandparenting.org