Staying Tuned to Your Child's Needs as They Grow
By Anne Leedom
I am going to admit something I am not terribly proud of. I get my feelings hurt quite a lot lately. My oldest daughter is 10 years old (almost 10 and1/2, as she would say) and she just isn't too thrilled with Mommy's never-ending hugs and kisses. Oh, I think she still likes it when I make a fuss over her, but there is a major shift occurring in how she wants me to relate to her.
I am suddenly hit smack in the face with the one thing about love that truly defines love….giving love to someone in the way THEY need to receive it, not the way YOU want to give it, nor even, possibly, in a way they can even recognize yet as love.
When my two girls were young, I knew exactly what they needed to feel loved. They needed my endless patience, time, and attention. They needed to be fed, bathed, rocked to sleep, held: It was exhausting.
As they got a little older, it was still tiring.
3,427 questions a day, the latest melodrama of who did what to whom or what the latest and greatest episode of Zack and Cody was all about. Zack and Cody?
But millions of great times: games, homework, the amazing people they were becoming. The rules were still very clearly spelled out…spend time with your kids through thick and thin and they will generally feel loved and supported.
In the preteen years, the rules are changing faster. They are making choices, lots of choices, and so far most of them have been good. Nevertheless, good or bad, the choices have increasingly to become theirs. My role is to give them some space to learn to take care of themselves.
The teenage years are clearly going to be about standing back, a little more each day, more and more as the years go by. To raise independent, confident, and happy kids, they will need strong boundaries precisely so that when they push, someone is there to help them know when they are falling off a cliff and not just going for a walk in the woods. Somehow, having a teenage daughter tell me she hates me is part of the gift I have to give her in the present in order to pass along that sense of where the right and wrong paths diverge, a sense she won't thank me for, or even will feel comes out of love, until years later.
Here are five strategies I find useful in making this transition.
1. Accept the changes before moving forward
Our kids need to feel that we want them to become independent and confident adults. I have seen many teenagers and young adults really struggle because they knew that growing up and moving out in the world was somehow hurting their mothers. They develop an unhealthy sense of responsibility for their moms that will hinder their development.
2. Create quality listening time
As our kids grow they need to feel we are accessible and interested as they tell us about their lives. They need activities and time where we can really focus on them and listen to how they feel, what they are thinking and how they are changing. Make it your top priority even if it is only for fifteen minutes a day.
3. Increase their responsibilities and give them room to fail
One of the best ways we show our kids we love them is to trust them. Keep new expectations realistic. However kids gain confidence based on how much we trust them and how much we let them fail. The real key is to make them accountable for the actions they choose and the consequences they must face.
4. Don't judge your kids – guide your kids
As kids begin to experiment with their friends and their looks it is crucial they feel that they always have our love. Be sensitive in your critique and how you present your thoughts to them. Reinforce the good things and be firm about your position without criticizing their choices.
5. Model what you want for them
This is one of the commandments of parenting that will never change. Our kids will always look to us for an example of what is right or wrong. So ask yourself if your behavior is something you would want your child to engage in someday. Kids start out as sponges and end up being mirrors, so consider what you might one day see. When you are consistent with your values, sleeping at night will be much easier in the years to come.
One of the best moments in my day is when my kids are falling asleep at night. In spite of the daily pushing, pulling, and tugging for independence, I can count on two things every single night of my life. They want me right by their side when they fall asleep at night, and they want their special night time stuffed animals in their arms. Once in a while the toy gets pushed over just a bit, but when I come back and do my final tuck their arms are always wrapped tightly around these long time friends. I can only hope that they will carry this love with them for the rest of their life, even when I am far, far away.