Monday, March 12, 2012

How to connect with your tween daughter

We walk in the door, she walks up to her room, plugs in the earbuds, and begins the social connections through text and facebook to the people she's been with all day.  What happened to the little girl who couldn't wait to tell me about her day? Who is this apparition that inhabits my home, eats my food, gives me clothes to wash, and takes my money?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to connect with my big princess.  I've gathered tips and information over the last few years, and am selfishly writing this post to remind myself of the ways to connect.  12 hints for my 12 year old!

1.  Really Listen
When she shares something about her day, as silly as it may be, pay close attention.  In those stories about her bff's pig pillow pet named bacon, how Sally saw John put a letter in his locker that Sue thinks is from Sara who is trying to convince John to break up with her for Samantha, or the new catchphrase, there is a wealth of information.  Who is she talking about?  Are they the same friends she's had, or does she seem to be moving in a new direction?  What do you know about the kids she spending time with?  When she moves to the fridge singing a line from a song, look up the lyrics.  Do you approve?  Could you live with listening to it in the car with her?  Giving her tickets to the concert for her birthday and going together?

2. Read the same books.
 We recently read The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  I loved the series, and read through it really, really quickly. She was still on the first one when I finished.   It's been fun to discuss parts as she gets to them.  Whenever you can encourage reading and have something in common with your daughter, it's a win - win situation!  If you haven't read them yet, I highly recommend them. 

We're looking for ideas of what to read next.  Leave a comment with suggestions!

3.  Have a Mommy and me Journal.
 I was inspired to do this after seeing this pin:

Sometimes, it's easier to write down thoughts than talk.  She is more able to express herself without fear of the look on my face.  And I have time to think about my words and responses without responding immediately.  It's also a great way for her to ask about things she may be too embarrassed to say face to face.  She writes after bed, and leaves it for me to read the next morning.  I try to respond and leave in her room to read before school.   Highly recommend this activity.

4. Learn about her interests and activities.  
 I've had to do research on volleyball positions and rules this year.  But being able to talk about a match afterwards, other than to say "you worked hard today" has built many conversations.  I've also been able to initiate conversations after practice about the number of serves she got over, did her bumps go forward or up, etc.  Even if it's just for the car ride home, she knows I cared enough to learn.  The picture at the top was one she took in photography club, we have several of her pictures on display.  There's no more artwork coming home for the fridge, so look around for things to celebrate!

5.  Know what she's watching
 I try to watch the shows she really likes, and be able to discuss them with her.  I have had to deem a few inappropriate, but many we can discuss plot lines, characters, and the consequences that the characters would have faced in real life if they don't on the show.   She's gotten to the age where some are not little princess approved, so she occasionally has to watch them in another room.  She's at the age of wanting to watch things that are still too mature, so pay close attention..
6. Be present when appropriate
Time to take some gas out of the helicopter, mom.  This is a tough one.  Your presence, when parental presence is neither required, accepted, nor approved, is a quick way to lose the ground you've been building.   I've  been watching other moms and taking cues.  It's cool to be at the match, supporting the team, but no so cool to hang out with the team when they have downtime.  There are still many times my presence on the sidelines is still required for my own peace of mind, but I'm trying not to hover.

7.  Pick your battles, and try to say yes more than no
Planning a whole post on discipline and responsibility later, but this is relevant here.  If you are constantly nagging, and refusing, you will become the enemy.  It can be" yes, when" (i.e. yes, you can get a cell phone when you show responsibility; yes, she can spend the night when you get your room clean, etc.) but an outright no to every request will not help your relationship. Decide what you can live with.  A wise friend once told me to allow some small "rebellions" when they are younger and they will not try the big ones later for effect.  In watching her son grow, I saw the proof of this.  If it's just not your personal taste but doesn't affect their health, safety, or reputation, ask yourself why you are saying no.

8.  Love notes in the lunchboxes may no be longer kid approved, but in a notebook, or her mirror are great. 
She packs her lunch daily, and I used to stick little notes in frequently.  Now, I only do it in conjunction with a special food or day. On spirit day at school, I drew paw prints and wrote "Go Wildcats" on her bag of food.  That was enough to let her know I cared enough to put some extra effort, but not so much that it embarrassed her.  (Notice a trend?  AVOID EMBARRASSING YOUR CHILD as frequently as possible. )  Other inspirations:

Heart attack on the door for Valentine's was a hit, so I sporadically leave a post-it note on her mirror for her to find when she wakes up.

Special snacks on special days, like big tests!

9. Lure her out of the bedroom and involve her
She might not admit it, but she really does want to feel involved.  Enlist help with dinner, challenge her to a wii dance off.  Just Dance 3 is a big hit around here. 

Another fun way to connect is to do a crafty project for her room.  Let her be involved in the design.  Here's some ideas to get you started:
Recover a lampshade:

Bling out a clipboard:

Make a cute container for grocery bags to keep in her room to replace trash can "liners"

Make a weekly reminder board:

10.  Schedule a girls night out for the two of you. 
I've found this particularly important in light of all the little princess interruptions at home.  Help her to feel important.  Go to the movies, go for a run together (and try not to be embarrassed when she shows you up), go for a dinner out, pedicures, manicures.  Now is a great time to begin teaching her how to care for her skin.  If you are into natural products, Crunchy Betty is a GREAT blog for natural face and hair recipes and remedies.  Send everyone else out, pull out an Audrey Hepburn movie, and put some food on your face and paint on your nails.

11.  Respect her privacy
This may seem like an oxymoron on this post, after all, how can you connect to the being in her bedroom?  However, I have found that giving her downtime (translated: crashed on her bed texting and facebooking) allows her time to recover from a day sitting in class.  After all, don't we all like a few minutes to crash when we get home?  Remember yourself at this age - I spent a lot time in my room, on the phone, etc.   She gets 30 minutes to an hour alone in her room.  This varies depending on the amount of homework she has (she gets longer on heavy homework days) and the time she has spent in after school activities that day (less time).  The little princess craves time with her, but it's much more peaceful and fun if she's had her private time first.

12.  And in contrast - limit screen time.
 In this social media age, I have found myself towing a hard line.  The amount of damage that can been done is scary.  While we've spent her lifetime educating her about not sharing info online, she still messed up once connecting with someone on Twitter.  We spent a few hard months of grounding and educating her on the dangers,  and she's more aware now.  People aren't always who they say there are.  Our rule:  if you haven't talked to them physically, you don't talk to them electronically.  She would spend all evening on her social sites on her ipod touch, so we are working on a system to limit that.  I'm looking at this one from ducks in a row.  Each Sunday, each child gets 10 tickets, each one equaling 30 minutes of screen time.  When they are gone, they are gone. 

Hope these have given you a few ideas on making connections with your tween.  PLEASE share any you have, I'm always on the lookout for ideas!

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