How Tweens and Teens Can Establish Healthy Relationships

This post is by Tara Paterson, Tara has been building bridges with moms and families for many years and launched her non- profit concept- the Just For Mom foundation. The Foundation has been involved with projects that involved a grassroots effort to support the Reading Rainbow; the creation of the prestigious Mom’s Choice Awards®; and is the recipient of a portion of the proceeds from the Chicken Soup series – Chicken Soup for the Mother and Sons Soul.

As the parent of a tween about to enter middle school, what I have observed in the past year is a shift in the way children in 5th grade relate to each other as opposed to their earlier elementary school years.  They begin to take notice of what types of clothes the other kids are wearing; they notice the opposite sex in a different way; and they are beginning to find their niche whether in sports, academics or social surroundings.  This also triggers the awareness of who is better at what activity which can lead to conflict amongst friends.

Each child has individual strengths and often when they see others excel at something they themselves wish was a strength of their own, this can lead to unconscious envy, ridicule and sometimes even bullying.  Kids don’t mean to act out their frustration using these means, but if they aren’t confident in their own abilities or encouraged to do their best, their self- esteem suffers which leads to acting out their lack of confidence in many other ways; this can also impact the choices they will make later in life when faced with peer pressure.

So what can a parent do to be aware of their child’s insecurities and guide them toward strengthening their inner confidence?

  • Encourage and acknowledge the accomplishments your child achieves. Your son may not be the best player on the team, but by focusing on all of the things he did right, verses accentuating the mistakes he may have made, this will increase your child’s confidence in his abilities.
  • Make sure to correct your child’s criticism of another as soon as you hear it.  We are all guilty of pointing out another person’s flaws, especially when its something we do well ourselves, but by bringing your child’s awareness to how hurtful her comments can be or pointing out the things the other child does right, she will learn to be kinder and gentler on herself when she makes a mistake.
  • Don’t shame your child or criticize their mistakes.  When a child falls short of an accomplishment they had hopes of achieving, they feel badly enough on their own without the added pressure or disapproval from a parent.  Again this is a time to point out all of the things they did right.  If your child needs to indulge in an emotional state for a time, allow them to move the feelings out of their body completely.  This will balance their inner self and prepare them for the next experience.

These are just a few ways parents can assist their child with building a stronger, more confident sense of self.  Children face a lot of challenges as they learn to grow into their bodies and if parents can tune into how their children relate to the world around them, they can empower their child to focus on building their own character from the inside out.  This will give them higher self- esteem and confidence which will ultimately decrease their need to bring other’s down.

How Can You Empower Your Child to Be Self-Directed?

One complaint I often hear from parents is how their tween or teen lacks responsibility with such things as picking up after themselves; managing their homework; or taking care of other household or personal responsibilities.  I have to admit, this is a challenge I face with my husband, let alone my kids. So how can we encourage our children to develop self-direction – which ultimately impacts the choices they’ll make when it comes to drugs, alcohol, and sex?

To begin with, parents need to set boundaries – not as their kids approach their teen years, but when they are young.  Define parameters for your child that he or she can feel comfortable with but which also allows room to grow. Explain these boundaries so your child understands the reason for them.  Children have a very strong need to express themselves in independent and creative ways and, like adults, don’t like to feel restricted from natural growth and expression.  Oftentimes parents set stringent boundaries out of their own personal fear.  One example of this I see often with clients and friends is the fear of allowing a toddler to climb the stairs.  News flash: kids need to learn how to do it and if you stand back and give them room to figure out how to manage such a feat, not only are you building their confidence, but you are giving them the space they need to grow.

Freedom within limits is a very powerful tool in teaching children to self-direct.  Some children will have the natural ability to do this while others will need more parental guidance.  The key is for you, the parent, to tune in intuitively to the needs of your child.  As a child matures into each new stage of development, expand the boundaries so your child  can continue to have room to grow.  When they are old enough to do certain things, let them do it.

Homework is a great example.  If your child doesn’t do his work, allow the natural consequences to take effect.  If your child is the type who doesn’t like to disappoint a teacher and they fail to do their homework which results in missing recess or having to do it in the principal’s office, the natural consequence will have a great enough impact which will remind them to get it done next time.  If you add to the shame by getting angry or showing your disappointment, they will be less willing to make sure it’s done the next time. Another way to handle grades is to let your child know you care if their grade drops and you would like them to do better, but refrain from getting mad and making a big deal about it.  Empower your child to work harder for themselves, not for you. It is human nature to rebel against what someone else wants; show them how they benefit and I guarantee you will see a shift in the way they approach things.

By setting reasonable limits and expanding boundaries you show you respect your child, trust her abilities and you build her confidence.  Allowing natural consequences to occur, your child will feel safe enough to come to you if he makes the wrong choice and he will understand he has to take accountability.  As parents it is not our job to prevent our children from going through their experiences in life.  In order to teach children to take responsibility for their actions, they need to be allowed to make choices and self-direct their decisions.  This will prepare them for the bigger challenges they will face like drugs, alcohol, tobacco and sex so they will feel confident in making better, healthier choices.

Parents, Walk Your Talk

We hear it all of the time: “All teens will try drugs” or “all teens will have sex.”  Well I suppose if that’s the illusion we want to create or the story we want to project out to the world at large to sum up what our kids are doing with their time; perhaps it could be true.  I however disagree.

I remember being told as a young parent to expect your kids to behave and they will; expect your kids to respect you and they will.  So far this technique has worked.  Now if I choose to allow every sassy remark my 11 year old makes to be considered disrespect, I can certainly claim I have been disrespected, but I choose to pick my battles.  Most of all, I choose not to take his mood personally.

As parents, we all too often allow everything our children do to become a personal attack.  I hate to be the bearer of good news, but when our buttons are being pushed by our children, it is often something we have been told or raised to believe is true.  Children, especially tweens and teens, are expected to live by a code of ethics that most parents don’t abide by themselves.  Ninety percent of how a child acts or behaves is based on modeling an adult in his or her life.  How many times have you taken your frustration out on your child?  How many times have you made a face about something your child says simply because it wasn’t something you wanted to hear or agreed with?

Teens have been watching how their parents act from the beginning of time.  If they witness inappropriate behavior or observe their parents drinking or smoking or hear them say mean things to each other; what do you expect they will do?  A model teen can only model what they know and they don’t know what they don’t know.

As a society we need to be vigilant about what our kids are exposed to through the media, the internet, their peers as well as music, video games, movies, etc.  It’s time for parents and caregivers to assume responsibility for the important role we play in our children’s lives.

Walk your talk or don’t preach your speech.  Children take their cues from you!

©2008 by Tara Paterson, ACPITM Certified Coach for Parents of Intuitives, All Rights Reserved              (co-author Parenting Intuitive Children, New Page Books, spring ’09)

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