Thinking back to that smiley, giggly, angelic face and those chubby little legs, it seems quite unbelievable that standing before us now is soon to be a teenager. We all hope, dream and strive for that strong parent-child bond. One where our children feel comfortable enough to confide in us, listen to our advise as their parent and have fun with us as their friend, but as they become more independent, strong willed and hormonal, many of us know too well that this can prove to be a challenge.
Don’t suppress their independence, they are going to need it for their future.
Our strong willed, independent children with their own minds are the same ones we want to be able to support themselves in their future lives as adults. I’ve realised that they are practicing playing out their independence and decision making skills and if we prevent this practice now, it could cause difficulties for them in adulthood. After all, we all want our children to grow up to be strong, independent individuals. If they don’t listen to our advice, remember that they will learn more from our actions than the lecture we give them. The other day my daughter said to her seven-year-old sister “don’t eat that now, dinner is nearly ready and you’ll spoil it” and it was like listening to myself or my mum! It made me realise that they are watching us and copying our actions more than we are aware. At times, the stubbornness, back chat and out right defiance can be frustrating and I’m sure we have all raised our voices at one time or another, but we must be careful what we project. How we react when we are frustrated is likely to be how our children react when they feel the same. Even if they agree with what we are saying, I think some children find it hard to admit it. We must try not to look for acknowledgement of who’s right and who’s wrong. As long as they take on board the message we want to give, then it is enough.
Admit when you make mistakes too. Nobody’s perfect.
As parents we are all just doing the best we can, but we are only human and we don’t always get it right. Just the other day, I blamed my daughter for a situation that wasn’t actually her fault. I later realised that I was so tired that I over-reacted and as a result, I saw the situation from a totally irrational perspective. As soon as I realised, I apologised and was completely honest, but also upset with how I had behaved. I think it is important to show them we are real people and that we don’t hide behind a visage of perfection, projecting a persona that we are always right just because we are the parent. It’s also important for us to show our children our emotions-to cry if we need to and to apologise when we realise we’ve got something wrong. In a world where everyone is striving for perfection, our children need to see that it is ok not to be perfect and we need to model how they should act when they realise they are wrong, sad or frustrated. There have been many times when this has happened with me and it has often resulted in my daughter giving me a big hug and us both smiling.
Understand their stress.
Yes, we were once their age and our bodies and minds were going through the same changes that adolescence brings, but I’ve come to realise that life is very different now. Yes, most if not all, of our pre-teens and teenagers are lucky enough to have their own mobile phone. They can contact their friends and the wider world via WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites at their finger tips, but we must also acknowledge and empathise with the added pressures and stress this can cause. The other night, just as we were sitting down for our family dinner, my twelve year old daughter’s phone pinged and she swiped to read the message. I told her to put her phone down and to reply later as were have a rule that there are no phones at the dinner table, to which she replied “but she can see that I’ve read it, she’ll think I’m being funny if I don’t reply”. She was clearly stressed and when her Dad backed me up and told her to sit down, the look on her face made me realise just how stressful growing up today can be. Other times, we may be enjoying a family film, have grandparents over or busy doing a number of other things and her phone may be sitting next to her. That little green button that announces when you are online can cause the phone to ring continuously until she eventually feels compelled to pick up, willingly or not. I have since realised that if we are doing something together as a family, or if she just wants or needs to relax, I ask my daughter to leave her mobile phone in the other room to avoid the stress of appearing online and ‘available’ to talk. This way, I feel that I remove some of the pressure and stop her being suffocated by technology. But it’s not just technology. It seems that issues with friendships, the pressure of exams and the need to be ‘liked’ and popular amongst their peers are way up there in the teenage stress list. When it comes to posting online and ‘likes’ I have come to realise the importance of ‘the number’. That magic number that tells them how popular they are. The number that reflects not only their friends, but friends of friends and friends of friends of friends, some of which have never even met face to face and may just go to the same school as a friend of a friend. Things can be tough for our children and sometimes I think that, although it’s not the same as getting reassurance from their peers, they also need us to tell them how great we think they are too.
Spend quality time together.
Strong relationships are hard to break and there is no better way to strengthen a relationship than spending quality time together. Choose something you both like doing and enjoy your precious moments. I love going for a bike ride with my daughter, cooking, painting her nails and watching a good film together. It’s our time to bond and I find it helps us to understand each other on a different level, so that when we do fall out, it’s much easier to make up. Eating dinner together is another perfect opportunity to catch up with each other and to find out about each other’s day. It also shows that we are interested and that we care about them.
Give them time to calm down.
Apparently it takes 20 minutes for the body to return to normal after a fight/flight response. When we try to sort things out and problem solve when they are angry it is pointless, as they won’t fully comprehend any explanations or solutions until their body returns to normal. So we must give them some space and once they’ve calmed down, we stand a much better chance of clearing the air.
Tip! When deciding how to react to a certain situation, imagine it as a news headline. What reaction would you have if you read it? Would you laugh? Or be horrified? For example, how would you feel if you read ‘Twelve year old girl returns five minutes late from meeting friends’, or ‘Missing twelve year old girl last seen walking home alone at 10pm’