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5 Tips for Better Conversations With Your Preteen


Over the years, I’ve come across a good amount of parenting advice for dealing with preteens. Some have been helpful. Some just haven’t worked for me. Below are five things that have stuck with me and I have found helpful to remember when I have a conversation with my girls, especially my 11-year-old. 

1. A push/pull relationship is normal

Sometimes the push side is more prominent as she asserts her individuality. Sometimes the pull is more prominent as she looks for reassurance or connection. It can be hard to watch your preteen that once wanted to spend all her time with you pull away and not want anything to do with you.

During these times when she is pushing me away as hard as she can, it is helpful to remember that the pull side is there as well and will make an appearance again. Both sides are always present.

2. Listen and be present

When she comes to me with problems, she doesn’t always want me to jump in with a solution. Sometimes she knows what to do and just needs a sounding board to figure this out. I need to remind myself to first listen and be present with her in these instances.

If I’m unsure what she needs from me, I’ll ask if she wants my take on things or a suggestion on how to handle the situation or for me to just listen, help her reflect, or commiserate with her.

3. Say ‘and’ instead of ‘but’

When we say ‘but,’ it pretty much tells our kid to disregard everything we just said. Saying ‘and’ let’s them know we mean what we previously said as well as what we’re about to say.

For example, if we say “I hear that you’re disappointed BUT you still can’t go to that party,” all our children focus on is the second half of the statement “you still can’t go to the party. 

But if we change our wording to “I hear that you’re disappointed AND you can’t go to the party,” the brain understands the entire sentence and a door is left open for you to both sympathize with feelings and still hold necessary boundaries.

4. Write things down when you can

Once your preteen starts puberty, their brain goes through some major growth that will continue until their prefrontal cortex comes together around 24 years of age for females and 27 years of age for males. During this time, their auditory system does not work well.

When they look at you as you ask them to do something and then walk away as if they didn’t hear a thing you just said, this is why. The connections just aren’t working properly.

Their visual system is working better during this time, though. So, you can help your preteen by writing things down whenever possible. Maybe a list by the door of things they need for the day or a list in the house somewhere of chores that need to be done. Things will sink in much better if it is visual as opposed to auditory.

5. Give them time

Your child needs time to process and reflect on things and a space where they can do this. Their bedroom, free of technology, can be this sanctuary that allows them privacy and space to just stare at the wall as they learn to disconnect and wind down from their day.

When something happens that upsets my daughter, going to her immediately and asking about it doesn’t help. If anything, it makes things worse. She doesn’t really know yet herself. If she has 24 to 48 hours to think about it and process it, then our conversation will be much more fruitful.

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Carolyn Savage

Carolyn is a writer, proofreader, and editor. She has a background in wildlife management but pivoted to writing and editing when she became a mother.

In her "free time" she is a 4th Dan (degree) Kukkiwon certified black belt in Taekwondo, loves learning to craft from her enormously talented children, and then teaching what she's learned to her enormously talented grandmother. Read full bio >>