Start the Conversation
Helping kids learn to navigate the world comes in many forms. As a parent, you coach your young child on the skills needed to walk, talk, eat, and grow. As your child grows, new skills are needed to navigate increasing responsibility. As these and physical changes occur, many feelings and emotions arise. Teenage life is a whole new world for you and your child. This journey requires more advanced emotional skills that need to be taught, practiced, and reinforced. Improvement comes through disappointments and trying again. Together you can make this transition a healthier one.
Talking with your tween about social and emotional health can be hard. The more often you have these conversations, the more comfortable they become. The first conversation won’t be perfect; that’s ok. The important thing is the you keep trying; this is not a one-time conversation.
Not sure when to start? How about now? Parents find that having these conversations while driving, making dinner, or while doing something fun is a great way to start. Use examples from your child’s life such as books, movies, TV, or daily events, to continue the conversation.
You know your child best. When you notice something off about your child, that’s a good time to chat. You can use your child's life experiences, like a fight with friends or a less than stellar grade, to start a conversation. Talking about the situation, feelings, and responses from everyone involved provides an opportunity to learn and grow.
A trauma is any event that is deeply upsetting, scary, or harmful. We have all lived through a trauma in the past year dealing with Covid-19. Some children will be more impacted by this than others. After a trauma, the emotional effects can last a long time. It can be hard to move on because trauma affects a child’s sense of safety and trust.
There may be signs that your child may struggling, such as: unwanted thoughts or images, negative feelings, avoidance of reminders, problems with attention, being easily irritable or “on edge.”
There are things you can do as a parent to help your child process what has happened during this time and move forward.
Listen Attentively and Answer Questions
Do Something Fun
Practice Patience, Warmth, and Love
Limit Media Exposure
Consider Professional Help
Managing Anxiety and Stress
We have all just experienced a stressful experience that lasted for a long time. It’s normal to feel a mix of emotions, including exhaustion, uncertainty, or even joy to be nearing the end. Talk with your child about their feelings (generally and specifically) and about things impacting them.
Anxiety and anger are natural emotions that signal us to pay attention to adapt and protect ourselves. However, if they become overwhelming, it can be problematic. Here are some techniques to use to manage stress and anxiety. These are great for kids, tweens, and adults.
Identify and Name your Feelings
Use Calming Techniques
Notice the Good
Let Technology Work for You
Know When to Ask for Help
Below are links to other valuable resources that may be helpful for your and your family:
- AAP: Children & Media Tips
- American Psychological Association: Digital Guidelines- Promoting Health Technology Use for Children
- AACAP: Social Media & Teens
- CDC Guidance on Covid & Adolescents
- Healthy Children
- Seize the Awkward
- NAMI Utah
- Child Mind Institute
- Parent Guidance
- PBS Kids
- SelectHealth LiveWell
- Utah State Board of Education
- DSAMH Youth Programs
- Help Me Grow Utah
With all the distancing we’ve done over the last year, social interactions may feel strange to your tween. Talk to them about how to interact positively with others to make meaningful connections. Encourage them to talk to someone new, be open, practice listening, and to be themselves. Acknowledge things may be awkward at first but will get better with practice. Middle school is a time to explore and friendships often change. Remind them every kid feels nervous. Establishing clear routines and rituals for various times of day like mornings and after school provides structure.
Family InvolvementMaking time for family time is key in helping tweens build social health. Family engagement will and should look different for every family. Family time needs to be able to work for your family, but there are things that you can build in.
Set clear boundaries with your tween and follow through with those expectations. While it is never fun to “be the bad guy,” your tween will appreciate it. Involve your tween (when appropriate) in setting family rules and consequences.
Adults can help tweens build relationship skills by role modeling and talking about what a healthy relationship looks like. Healthy relationships take work, but helping a tween learn what makes good relationships is a lifelong lesson.
It is important to remember that while adults have years of experience navigating relationships (platonic or romantic), this is new territory for tweens. Talk about your own relationship experiences & outcomes; share both successes and failures to help your tween appreciate how tricky relationships can be. Ensure that you highlight how you handled when a relationship ends.
Healthy relationships share certain characteristics that teens should be taught to expect. They include:
Think about your own social interactions during a day. It takes a lot of skill to navigate with family, co-workers, and strangers. These skills are often referred to as “social skills”. They are the tools a person needs to be able to communicate, learn, get their needs met in healthy ways, make friends, keep themselves safe, and ultimately develop healthy relationships. Tweens need reminders as they have new life experiences which social skills to use or build upon. Allow failure & coach them on how to resolve issues by focusing on their independent skills. Building these skills will take time and practice; however, you can be a role model and guide for your tween.
Encourage face-to-face communication and contact for your tween. This will help your tween develop skills to “read” people, build confidence in social situations, and help provide connection between peers and others.
Here are some tips for face-to-face communication. In a digital world, your tween may need to be specifically coached on these skills.
Skills are commonly built when a tween has opportunities to engage with groups of kids through sports or hobbies they enjoy. Encourage tweens to become involved in arts, music, sports, or other hobbies to practice engaging with other tweens.
One way to blend emotional and social health is to share feelings with others. Try using I statements such as: “I feel __(emotion)__ when you _(_specific action)__ because __(effect)__”.
At times, getting a conversation started with a tween at times can seem impossible. Here are some tips on how to get a conversation started.
If you are struggling to get more than a one-word response from your tween, try some of these questions or any other open-ended question.
It can be frustrating when your tween won’t communicate. Be patient and keep trying. Research shows that even though middle school is a time when tweens begin to pull away, they still want and need your attention and approval. Being open, empathetic, and non-judgmental will most likely lead to a better outcome. Look over this chart and see if changing the way you talk to your tween elicits a different response.
Try saying/doing this:
Avoid saying/doing this:
Many parents have concerns about what their tweens are doing online. The internet is a vast place with a full range of content, everything from the positive and educational to dark and troublesome. Being aware of what your tween is doing online can allow for discussion and skills building.
Remember that not all time online is equal. If your tween is spending most of their online time on things like schoolwork, educational websites, and building healthy social connections, you may not need to be strict on time limits. However, if most of their time is on time-wasters, degrading content, or sites that lead them to feel bad about themselves, consider installing time limits on these types of activities or redirecting to more positive content.
Tweens and teens still need help mastering self-regulation. This can be especially difficult on social media, which is designed to be captivating. Monitor your tweens social media accounts and talk about the interactions that happen. Encourage a balance across all the things they do in a day, including online activities.