Perhaps you are looking to spend more quality time with your kids as part of a New Year’s resolution. So as the new year begins, the idea of connecting or re-connecting with your tween daughter is a great one. As with any goal, just stating your intention doesn’t bring it to fruition (if it did I would have already have a cleaner house and be down five pounds). You need to have small steps to guide you and keep you accountable. And sometimes it sneaks up on us – that realization that your little girl has changing interests, and the things that you used to do with her no longer hold her attention. And most of all, her increasing interest in friends can make you feel distant.
As you envision your hopes and dreams of the coming year, take a few moments to be inspired to maintain or strengthen your relationship with your tween daughter. The benefits you will reap for small gestures are priceless. I promise.
Ask her! She’s probably expressing a desire for more independence and respect, so solicit her input on this. If you ask her what she’d like to do, she may already have some ideas. If not, tell her that you guys will make a list of things to do together over the next few months or more. As she starts to see your ideas on paper, she will no doubt be inspired to add a thing or two.
Movie night. Make it something of an event, rent or stream a movie that you agree on, get into pajamas and watch with plenty of snacks and hot chocolate. If there are teachable moments in the movie, don’t hammer her with them, but maybe make a light reference to a theme (“wow, the girl who did the right thing even though it was hard won out in the end!”). Make mental notes of any other talking points to bring up later (“your friend Ashley is acting like that girl from the movie, I hope she works things out and has a different ending”).
Braid her hair, or try funky nail art. I cannot seem to learn how to French braid hair, it just isn’t coming to me. But I was determined, so I asked my daughter to sit in front of me and let me work on her hair while watching a YouTube video tutorial. Trying to work her hair through clumsy fingers while the video moved too quickly, pausing and restarting the video with my elbow, and repeatedly exclaiming “That doesn’t even make sense!! What am I doing wrong?” proved hilarious to her. We both laughed through the entire process, which did not end in anything that even resembled a braid, by the way. It took all of 15 minutes, but she still talks about it a few years later. You never know where fun, bonding moments will come from. If she doesn’t like braids (or you possess this skill, darn you), find new hair tricks or nail art tutorials to copy and try out, making sure to let her be a part of finding something to try.
Look over her social media. This one may sound crazy to you. But here’s the thing: We tend not to worry too much about what younger tweens are texting to one another, or what they are posting on Instagram, Twitter, etc., if they even have accounts. We’ve set up whatever parental controls we thought were appropriate and set up rules with them. This is great, but it sometimes gives us a false sense of security, so we may not supervise their technology use in a direct way (as in looking at their phone and its contents). Now imagine a few years go by and you decide that you should know what your 16 year old is seeing on social media or who she is texting. Imagine telling her that you’d like to see her phone to look it over. I can almost hear the huffing and see the eye-rolling. My point is that it is so much easier to start early with the concept that part of having a phone is sharing what goes on with it – and not thinking that it’s a bad thing.
I started right away with my daughter. I don’t like the ‘gotcha’ method of phone supervision. I know parents who feel like they need to arm themselves in a way that will catch their children doing something wrong on their phones, I think this comes from the fear that the kids always seem to be one step ahead of parents when it comes to technology. I set out the expectation that my daughter will be trustworthy, and that I am interested in what is happening in her world, as well as hoping that I can support her if/when something comes up that is beyond her ability to handle. I got in the habit of sitting down next to her on the couch and saying “hey, will you show me who you’ve been texting and what’s going on with them?” Or “what’s the latest on Instagram? Show me the latest and greatest!” I think because we started so early with this, she doesn’t know anything different, and she routinely shows me texts or posts without being asked. It has become something of a bonding activity, she can’t wait to show me this or that on her phone. I admit that adding these requests out of the blue would likely produce a snarky response, so I empathize if this will be the case for you. Ease into it, it really is important. I can promise you at some point you will be amazed at what her peers are posting. And it will become abundantly clear to you who has parents who don’t monitor their child online.
Take a walk. I think more than any other activity, walking has produced the most interesting conversations. There’s no pressure to talk, so we start out quietly heading down the street, maybe commenting on the weather or a neighbor’s landscaping. It’s in these moments that your tween is clearing her head, and most likely to share random facts about her life because you are right there to catch what she’s processing. Make sure to listen more than you talk, which will encourage even more sharing on her part.
Cook, bake, sew, craft! Either find time to do something you already know that you like, or endeavor to develop skills in a new area. Again, this allows the focus to be on something besides her friends, grades, chores, etc., and the likely result will be that this low-pressure time sparks comments or stories you may have otherwise missed.
With any of these activities, I really do encourage you to focus on listening rather than talking. I must admit that I have a hard time with this. I always have a running to-do list for my daughter – study for this test, I don’t like how this friend speaks to you, be nicer to your dad, etc. So when I carve out time with my daughter, I have to make a conscious effort to not launch into this list. If your daughter is a particularly tough nut to crack conversation-wise, you can get things started by asking open-ended questions such as “who is your funniest friend and why?” or “what is the meanest thing you saw happen today,” etc. If you need more ideas for conversation starters, a Google search will no doubt produce a wealth of ideas, and of course there is a section of these questions in Between Baby Dolls and Boyfriends.
I’m expecting that as you read through this list, you are thinking that there is nothing revolutionary or extraordinary about this. And you’re right! The bad news about this is that these activities have been within our grasp all along, but our busy lives often prevent us from taking the time to participate in them. The good news is that it won’t be hard to start. You don’t need lengthy instruction manuals or to overhaul your life to get the bonding started. Just start!
About Debi Smith-Racanelli
Debi Smith-Racanelli has two advanced degrees in Psychology, and is a passionate advocate of parenting education. Her book Between Baby Dolls and Boyfriends addresses all aspects of raising tween girls using wit and wisdom, and even has a spot called Kendall’s Corner at the end of each chapter, where her own tween daughter lends her perspective on how tweens will respond to the advice given. Connect with Debi on Twitter @DebiJSR.