Effective communication: Bridging the gap with your tween/teen

Navigating tween and teenagehood is just as tough on tweens and teens as it is on you.

WORDS: Madhavi Nawana Parker, Positive Minds Australia

Hormones (theirs) – maybe yours too 😉 fluctuate, moods wobble, and the impulsivity and emotionality of toddlerhood can return with a bang. Add body image, friendship challenges, expectations at school increasing and trying to figure out who they are and where they belong, and it really is the perfect storm. There’s so much happening under the bonnet isn’t there?

Here are 8 practical ways you can support them, and yourself through this stage.

  1. Be realistic. Accept the inconsistencies of parenting. On some days, you’re going to nail it, on others you won’t. The same goes for your child. Our worst parenting happens when our expectations are higher than our ability to meet them. Take your foot off the accelerator, slow down and let go of any expectation to know what to say and do at every turn.  No one knows, not even the parenting experts (trust me). The moment you let go of unrealistic expectations, you will find the most wonderful freedom to love, connect and communicate with your child, and that’s where the sweet stuff happens, promise.
  1. Don’t believe all your thoughts. When you catch yourself thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ or ‘I have no idea how to handle this,’ don’t fall into the trap of believing every word your mind thinks. When your confidence is low, and fear is at the forefront, you can’t think straight, and your communication skills go out the window.
  1. How you communicate matters far more than having exactly the right words to say. Trying to think of what’s right to say for every mishap, will burn you out pretty quickly. Forget the script. The best communication is not necessarily what you say, it’s how you say it and how connected you are while you say it. Meet them where they’re at. Show love and compassion. Speak their language and don’t baby them. Aim for high quality conversations, often. Talk about everyday low stake topics to strengthen that connection. Through that foundation, the high stakes conversations will be far more powerful.
  1. Acknowledge your child’s need for space and privacy. When they’re little, all they want is to be where you are. All you want when they’re little, is just a dash of space and privacy. As children enter the pre-teen and teen years, they start the search for their identity and carry an inherent need to feel independent and capable, without you. You start seeing less of them. They disappear off into their rooms, seeking out their own company and the company of their peers. While you don’t want them spending hours and hours alone, warmly communicate that you understand their needs and also want to stay connected with them. Ask how and when you can help them get enough time alone, without them disconnecting from your family.
  1. Smile and delight in their presence. This developmental stage can certainly have its challenges. We can find ourselves caught up in setting boundaries, supporting them emotionally or responding to troubling behaviour. Your smile the moment they walk through the door, no matter what else might be going on says, ‘I’m so happy you’re here,’ ‘you are seen and valued’ and is a powerful force of communication.
  1. Pick your battles. Tweens and teens can be particularly emotional and defensive while their brain goes through all the necessary changes. They want to believe they are capable and knowledgeable about how to live their life. Stick to your values and keep boundaries tight around respectful behaviour, without pointing out everything they’re doing wrong. Focus more on what they are doing right, their strengths and what you love and appreciate about them. Agree to disagree when its safe, healthy, and possible. Your relationship along with an open line of communication is vital and sometimes that means backing down, being flexible and compromising. 
  1. Try and listen without judgement. Reflect with empathy. This age group thrives on feeling heard, as they navigate who they are and what they believe in, independent of their family. They need to know, even if they have different views and values, they are still connected to you and deeply valued, as they are. They are not necessarily after advice like they used to be, so if in doubt, ask, ‘would you like advice or do you want me to just listen?’
  1. Be brave, maintain healthy limits and don’t be afraid to say, ‘no.’ A child being mad at you for having boundaries isn’t a reason to remove the boundary or get slack on it. Yes, they’ll make you feel terrible and maybe even tell you you’re the meanest parent on the earth. They say that kind of thing when they don’t get what they want. I assure you; they need your unconditional love, communication, and presence way more than anything. When you deliver boundaries warmly and respectfully, they are far more likely to listen. Through your modelling, they learn to set limits on themselves, when they no longer live with you and the guidance of your family’s moral compass.


The moment you let go of unrealistic expectations, you will find the most wonderful freedom to love, connect and communicate with your child, and that’s where the sweet stuff happens.

Parents, so much of what we get tangled up in the everyday pressures of family life, won’t matter a year from now…maybe not even a week from now. Our children need someone to talk to, who will listen. That person will always be the person who shows them compassion and support without judgement, and that wonderful person is you.

Love, Madhavi 

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