4 Ways to Strengthen the Bond with Your Child

Use these formative years to connect with your child or grandchild and help them grow

Mother kissing teenager on the cheek

The preteen years are that limbo stage between childhood and young adulthood when kids start to spread their wings, possibly spending less time with family and more time with friends. But as independent as preteens try to appear on the outside, they're often still looking for approval from their parents and guardians.

While it’s important to build up a relationship with your child throughout childhood and beyond, it’s especially crucial that you learn how to connect with them during these influential preteen years. “The preteen stage is a time of growth, reflection, and rebellion for many children,” explains Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D.

However, strengthening this relationship might not be easy. Here are some expert tips on how to bridge the gap and create a connection between you and your preteen.

1. Set Boundaries
By around age 11 or 12, the preteen in your life might want to spend more time with his or her friends and less time with family. That’s completely normal, according to Hakim.

But does that mean you should try to act more like a friend? Definitely not. “At the preteen stage, children are still longing for an authority figure to establish boundaries, and for guidance on how to make good choices that fit within those boundaries,” says Hakim.

The age of smartphones and social media platforms have made it more difficult for parents to provide that guidance, since so much of their lives take place online. But there are ways to insert yourself into that world without snatching the phone out of your preteen’s hands and hiding it away.

“Walk up to her, demonstrate real interest, and ask her to show you,” Hakim suggests. Is there a particular game or video she’s watching that you could ask her about? And if you see something questionable, Hakim advises that it’s important to bring it up. 

2. Listen

Establishing a regular flow of dialogue with a preteen isn’t always the easiest thing to do. But when he or she does come up to you with something to say, don’t waste the moment. “When your child comes up to you to talk or share something, stop what you are doing and look at him or her, even if the timing is inconvenient,” says Hakim. “Lead by example. Take your eyes away from electronics and focus solely on the interaction.”

3. Do Something Together

Spending time with your preteen without being in front of a screen is essential for a strong relationship. So if you haven't found an activity that you both enjoy doing together, now is the time. “If you don’t have a shared hobby, try different activities and find something that you like to do together,” says Hakim. “Humans thirst for real human interaction, so give this to your preteen. Laugh and have fun together.”

One hobby you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t like it, regardless of age? Eating really, really good food. Scan the local news or Yelp for new, trending restaurants in your area and suggest a dinner date with your preteen.

4. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Make sure the preteens in your life know that they can come to you when they're having an issue, no matter what it may be. “Open communication is critical,” says Hakim. “Remember that maintaining an open dialogue now is the key to having that open dialogue in the teenage years and beyond.”

A big part of that is making sure your preteen knows that he or she will have your support, no matter what. Still, relationships are built on trust, and your preteen trusts you to lead him or her down the right path. “Remind your child that you will always love him, even if you disagree with his choices sometimes,” Hakim continues. "Be firm yet gentle as you set and maintain boundaries."

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