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Patricia R. Adson, a licensed psychologist and the author of A Princess and Her Garden: A Fable of Awakening and Arrival (Lone Oak, 2000), shares her insights into how to build a stronger relationship with your children once they become teenagers.
"To sustain the relationship you want to have with your child you have to re-examine your role as a parent now that the old rules don't seem to be working," Adson says. She shares five strategies for strengthening your bond with your teen or tween.
1. Redefine the rules of parenting
The parenting rules that applied when you were dealing with a six-year-old are no longer applicable to your teen or tween. At that stage in the parenting process your child was truly dependent on you, but now your teen or almost-teen is suddenly questioning everything you say.
"You have to face the fact that this person is becoming more independent, and as they do, you may have to redefine some rules about participation in family activities, household chores and privacy," says Adson. "The first thing to do is get clarity about what is really important to you so you can withstand your child's questioning of your beliefs as she learns to sort things out on her own."
2. Listen to your child
Listening plays a significant role in cultivating a stronger relationship with your teen or tween. "The most important thing to do at this time is to keep the lines of communication open, and communication involves listening as well as speaking," says Adson.
Children know when you are distracted and not paying attention, but by really listening to them you're letting them know that they are valued (even though you may not agree with them), the psychologist explains. Listening and letting your kids talk despite not agreeing with them will also give them a healthy model for disagreement that promotes openness rather than building walls.
3. Be mindful of your attitude
Being a parent -- especially to someone on the cusp of becoming an adult -- can be difficult. But the more open and positive you are, the better your relationship with your teen or tween will be.
"Greeting each child with a list of what they should be doing or what they have done wrong, or telling them what's on your mind before you know what's on theirs, sets up a defensive attitude that is hard to overcome," says Adson. "Greeting a child with a smile instead of a frown or a stern expression helps them to feel safe, wanted, valued and less defiant simply for the sake of being defiant."
Rather than assuming you're going to get attitude or find a messy room, begin each encounter with an open mind.
4. Communicate directly
Communicate directly with your teen or tween, rather than silently stewing about any issues that arise or asking your spouse to deal with problems.
"Complaining to your spouse about the child and expecting him or her to do something about it creates a harmful triangle," explains Adson. If you are upset about something or have a request to make, make it directly to your child. "Doing this shows that you are an adult and capable of speaking for yourself, not a spokesperson for someone else or incapable of knowing your own mind," she says.
5. Take an interest in your teens' lives
You might be finding that you and your teens have little in common, but it's still important to try and find some common ground.
"Take an interest in what they are interested in even if it isn't your cup of tea," says Adson. If they like music that you can't stand, at least listen to it and allow them to tell you what they like about it so you can better understand what makes them happy. "You don't have to like it, but show respect to their changing tastes rather than making fun of them or dismissing them without ever knowing what they are about," she advises.
But this doesn't mean that you have to put up with deafening music, the psychologist warns. "You are still in charge," she says.
While it may seem impossible at times to get through to your teens or tweens, strengthening your bond with them can be easier than you think. By making a few simple changes and putting forth the effort to make compromises, you can ensure you and your kids remain close -- no matter their age.