Pre-teen communicating and relationships: overview

Pre-teen communicating and relationships: overview

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Family relationships in the pre-teen years

Family relationships change during adolescence, but they tend to stay strong right through these years. In fact, your child needs your family's love and support as much as she did when she was younger.

At the same time, your child will want more privacy and more personal space as he gets older. This doesn't necessarily mean your child has something to hide. It's just a natural part of adolescence.

Children also need more responsibility as they grow towards young adulthood. How quickly you hand over responsibility to your child depends on many things - your own comfort level, your family and cultural traditions, your child's maturity and so on.

To learn how to make safe and responsible decisions for themselves, teenagers need your advice, support and monitoring. The best monitoring is low key, although there'll be times when it's OK for you to ask your child for specific information about where she's going and who she's with.

Trust is the key to finding a balance between your child's need for privacy and responsibility and your need to know what's going on. If you and your child trust each other and stay connected, he'll be more likely to share what he's up to, stick to the rules, and try to live up to your expectations.

Staying connected with your pre-teen child

You can stay connected and build your relationship with your child by using unplanned, everyday interactions - for example, a casual chat over the washing-up. Or connecting can be planned. This is when you make special time to do things together that you both enjoy. Here are some ideas for planned and unplanned connecting:

  • regular family meals
  • fun family outings
  • one-on-one time with your child
  • family meetings to sort out problems
  • simple, kind things - a pat on the back, a hug or a knock on the door before entering your child's bedroom.

Listening and communicating

Active listening can be a powerful tool to improve communication and build a positive relationship with your child. This is because active listening is a way of saying to your child, 'Right now, you're the most important thing to me'.

Here's a quick guide to active listening:

  • Stop what you're doing, and give your child your full attention.
  • Look at your child while she's talking to you.
  • Show interest, and show your child that you're trying to understand.
  • Listen without interrupting, judging or correcting.
  • Concentrate hard on what your child is saying.

Negotiating and conflict management

Your child needs to learn about making decisions as part of his journey towards becoming an independent, responsible young adult. Negotiating can help your child learn to think through what he wants and needs, and communicate this in a reasonable way.

There'll also be times when negotiating doesn't work out, and you and your child disagree - this is normal. Dealing with conflict effectively can make your relationship with your child stronger. It also helps your child learn some important life skills.

Difficult conversations

Sometimes you and your child might need to have difficult conversations. Sex, sexual orientation, masturbation, alcohol and other drugs, academic difficulties, mental health, work and money are all topics that families can find difficult to talk about.

Tackling difficult conversations together is a sign that you and your child have a healthy relationship. And it also helps to keep your relationship with your child close and trusting.

Here are some tips for handling difficult conversations:

  • Try to stay calm. If you need a bit of time to calm down or gather your thoughts, make a time to talk later in the day.
  • Reassure your child that you do want to discuss the issue.
  • Let your child know you're happy that she wants to talk to you.
  • Actively listen to your child.
  • Avoid being critical or judgmental, or getting emotional.
  • Thank your child for coming to you.

Your child might avoid difficult conversations. If this is happening, you could try setting aside some time each day to talk with your child. Ask your child open-ended questions, and let him know that whenever he does want to talk, you're happy to listen.

Your child's friendships

As children enter adolescence, friends become increasingly important. Positive, accepting and supportive friendships help teenagers develop towards adulthood - and you can play an important role in helping your child manage peer relationships.

For example, just having a warm and caring relationship with your child can help your child with her own social relationships. And praising children when you see them being fair, trusting and supportive encourages them to keep working on those positive social traits.

Getting to know your child's friends shows your child you understand how important these friendships are. One way to do this is encouraging your child to have friends over and giving them a space in your home.

Teenage friendships can sometimes turn 'toxic', and friends can turn into 'frenemies'.

Instead of making your child feel good - like he belongs and is accepted - these friendships might involve put-downs, manipulation, exclusion and other hurtful behaviour.

You can help your child avoid toxic friendships by talking with your child about what good friends are like - they're the ones who look out for her, care about her, include her in activities and treat her with respect.

Teenage romantic relationships

Romantic relationships are a major developmental milestone for your child. But there isn't a right age to start having relationships - every child is different, and every family will feel differently about this issue.

Younger teenagers usually hang out together in groups. They might meet up with someone special among friends, and then gradually spend more time with that person alone.

Talking with your child can help you get a sense of whether now is the right time for relationships. If your child is interested in romantic relationships, you and your child might need to talk about behaviour and ground rules, and consequences for breaking the rules.

You might also want to agree on some strategies for what your child should do if he feels unsafe or uncomfortable.

You can be a positive role model for respectful relationships for your child in your own relationships and friendships by treating your partner, friends and family with care and respect. Just talking about both men and women respectfully lets your child know you think everyone's equal and valuable.