8 Ways to Build Strong Communication With Your Preteen

By Andrea Nelson
September 5, 2023
Father and son talking outside

Any parent who’s been through it will tell you the preteen years are rough: moodiness, an increased desire for independence, middle school. One of the hardest parts about this parenting rite of passage is feeling like you don’t know your own kid anymore. How do you talk so your kid will listen?

It’s more important than ever to understand what your tween deals with in the classroom, in their personal lives, and online. Here are some practical ideas for building strong communication with your preteen so you can stay connected to them, maintain a positive relationship, and remain a supportive presence in their life. 

Create opportunities for connection

Get your family in the habit of routinely checking in with one another. Regular family meetings and putting devices away at mealtimes provide a space for communication. Big family activities on the weekends are fun, but those micro-moments during the week are just as important. 

Don’t make it awkward, Mom!

Many tweens find it cringe-worthy to sit down and have a face-to-face chat with their parents. Car rides are a great place to get them to open up — both because they’re stuck with you and because they don’t have to make eye contact. 

For kids who enjoy writing, exchanging entries in a shared journal is a wonderful option for connecting. You can share it with everyone in the household, or just between you and your tween. 

Timing is everything 

Catching your tween in the right mood to talk is paramount. Before you launch in, let them know you’d love to hear what they have going on and ask them if it’s a good time to chat. But remember: if they say it isn’t a good time, you need to respect that boundary.

Find common ground

Look for an activity or hobby you can do with your preteen to build connection and create opportunities for spontaneous communication. This might mean you need to meet them where they’re at and immerse yourself in the world of Minecraft or K-pop, but we promise you, the bonding will be worth it. 

Lecture less, listen more 

Tweens often struggle with feeling alone and misunderstood. Try asking open-ended questions and actively listening to your kid’s answers. This action will show them you get what they’re going through (or, at least, that you want to).

Wondering how to talk to kids? Here are a few open-ended questions you can ask: 

  • Tell me about one good thing that happened at school today. 
  • What are you most excited about right now? 
  • What’s a struggle for you these days? 

Avoid criticism

Let’s face it — some of the decisions our offspring make are, shall we say, less than ideal. But shaming and blaming when they mess up is a surefire bet to push your preteen away. 

For instance, let’s say you find out that your tween is searching for inappropriate videos on their school YouTube account. You get an alert from BrightCanary, and instantly, you want answers.

Instead, try guiding them with empathy so they can learn from their own mistakes. In the example above, you’d want to talk to them about the videos they’re watching, explain why it’s a problem, and discuss how you can work on it together. 

These questions can help you take a more empathetic approach when your kid makes a mistake: 

  • What did you learn through this experience?
  • Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?
  • How can I support you in this situation?

Resist the urge to fix everything

Let’s say your tween comes to you with a problem. That’s great! Chances are, what they want most is to be listened to. If you simply must give advice, first ask them if they’re open to hearing it — or if they just want to vent.  

Practice self-care

Although you know it’s just a phase, the tween years can be a difficult and emotional time for parents. It’s important to take care of yourself, too. Finding a trusted friend or therapist you can talk to is a valuable tool that will allow you to show up for your tween, even when (especially when) they’re not at their best.

In short

The preteen years bring with them a shift in your relationship with your child. How do you talk so your kid will listen? Meeting them where they’re at, creating opportunities to reinforce a safe and supportive environment, and building strong communication with your tween will help you remain connected to their life now and for many years to come.

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