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Stay Connected With Your Changing Child

While it's 100% normal for your tween to act disengaged, deep down she still craves your attention. Here, do's and don'ts for giving it.
 

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It’s a fine line when you’re raising a tween: You want, and need, to stay close, but you need to give your child enough distance so she can grow and bloom. Allan Tasman, M.D., and Allen Josephson, M.D., psychiatrists and professors at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, in Louisville, Kentucky, offer advice.

Do suggest opportunities to do things together. "By putting the offer out there," explains Dr. Tasman, "you let your child know you're there for her." Whether your middle schooler loves sports or going to the ballet, suggest exploring that pastime together to demonstrate your own interest in her life.

Don't be too hurt when she turns you down. At this age, the idea of hanging out with friends is far more appealing than spending time with Mom or Dad. "Keep in mind," Dr. Tasman says, "that most tweens would rather be caught dead than hanging out with parents!" So don't let rejection deter you, and don't show that it upsets you. Just keep offering. One day, your middle schooler may surprise you with an enthusiastic "Yes!"

Do drive him wherever you can. Your child might be tired and bleary-eyed, but dropping him off at school in the morning provides the chance to make sure he's prepared for the day. It's also a good way to establish a solid routine that the two of you share, and to provide an opportunity to chat. If your morning schedules clash, create other chauffeur-driven connections by offering him rides to sports practice or friends’ homes.

Don't expect it to be easy. Dr. Josephson warns that connecting to a middle schooler takes different tactics than younger or even older children. "Spend more time listening rather than taking action," he says. Simply put, pay attention to what your child really likes now rather than doing things she may have enjoyed at a younger age. "Bring home a DVD she's wanted to see," suggests Dr. Josephson, and let her invite a friend over to watch it instead of watching it together. Chances are she'll appreciate it!

Do have dinner together. "Research shows that dinner time together is one of the most important things to keep family relations strong," says Dr. Tasman. But don't be overly structured. "Keep dinner simple," he says. What you serve isn’t as important as spending time together. "More than anything, the meal provides an opportunity for interaction."

Do allow him have his own experiences. At this point in his life, you need to step back in order to let your child grow into his own person. "Be emotionally connected," says Dr. Josephson, instead of trying to be physically in the same place all the time. “Listen to what he is saying about what is important to him,” adds Dr. Tasman.

Don't try to like the same things. Again, your child needs to be different and separate from you in terms of likes and interests, Dr. Josephson explains. For example, he says, you may think that listening to the same music will impress your middle schooler — but don't be shocked if she changes the station or says, "This is my music; you have your own!"

Do be “in the know.” Ask about what he's reading for school, and pick up that book yourself — you can talk about it in the car or during dinner.

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