Trouble in Tween Paradise: Relating to your child under stress

Trouble in Tween Paradise: Relating to your child under stress

Parenting can be stressful under any circumstances, and communicating with tweens can create its own unique brand of stress and difficulty. To offer helpful tips and advice to help parents and tweens connect and communicate, please welcome back today’s guest posters Abbie Kelley, MA, LCPC and Julianne Neely, MSW, LSW, licensed therapists specializing in child, adolescent, and family counseling at Individual and Family Connection.


We are blessed to work with kids of all ages every day.  As a result, we have unique insight into their ever-changing world, the world as seen from the adolescent perspective. One of our favorite parts of my job is assisting in bridging the gap between adolescents and their parents in family therapy.

While parents and their children work really hard to communicate with one another, they often come into my office experiencing a disconnect between the message sent and the message received, which prevents them from gaining any real understanding of each other.

Here are a few tips to get you both started off on the right foot as you encounter stressful attempts to communicate with one another.

1. First and foremost, take care of yourself. More than anything your child needs you to be grounded and centered because their emotions, hormones, thoughts, and desires are bouncing all over the place.  I understand that self-care is difficult when raising a family and that sacrifice is a part of parenting, but don’t sacrifice to the detriment of your own well-being.  Remember, it is reasonable to engage in self-care, as this ultimately makes you more emotionally available to your children.  Additionally, how can you teach children to care for themselves when you are not practicing what you preach? Children learn from both your words and your actions.

mother-daughter2. Once you are able to respond from a grounded, centered place take some time to define your role. This can be difficult because your role is constantly evolving. Your tween does not need the same approach to parenting as they did when they were seven or eight, but they still need a parent. As we remember from our own experiences, adolescence can be a scary, confusing, and frustrating time.

They need you to guide them.  I know it can be difficult to let go of some control, but the key word here is guide; they no longer need you to do things for them, but they also don’t need you become their buddy. Find a middle ground that works for both of you.

3. Stay centered; don’t take it personally when your almost teenager oozes sassy, bizarre, disrespectful behavior. They are confused, frustrated, have their hormones churning, and their friends are just as lost as they are! Even though they don’t recognize it, you are a stable, reliable person in their life who loves them no matter what.  As a result, you are often the safest person for them to take all of these overwhelming feelings out on.  I know it might not feel like it, but this is actually a compliment. Instead of getting defensive, hurt, or angry take it is a compliment as this means that they see you as safe and reliable person in their otherwise out of control world!

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4. Before you react to their lashing out, take a breath. Then, from your centered, calm place continue to be clear that as their parent that you will not accept disrespect, but acknowledge their emotions. As I am sure you have noticed, tweens have VERY strong emotions. What they are feeling is valid to them (no matter how irrational it may seem).  It is important to distinguish to your child that although their feelings are valid, acting out as a result of those feelings is not acceptable.  Despite their strong emotions, they cannot lash out and allow those emotions to take over their being.  A great response is, “It seems like you had a hard day, I am sorry you are feeling X, I am going to give you some space.”

5. Allow them to have some space to calm down.  Once they are calm, discuss how they could have approached the situation better and expressed their emotions in an effective manner.  You might need to discuss consequences at this time as well.  This is an important learning lesson for your child and will help them navigate through life in a more effective manner.

6. One helpful approach for communicating when your adolescent is having a “bad” day is to have a code word.  A code word can be helpful and used when your child is simply not ready to talk about their experiences yet.  Define the parameters to the code word first. For example, if you say ‘SpongeBob’ I know to give you some space to find the right words and you know that I will follow up with you before the day is over.  This promotes communication between the two of you while still allowing your child some time to regulate and process their feelings.

7. Be involved online. If the primary mode your child is using to communicate is through their text messaging,

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Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram you need to be familiar with these mediums, otherwise you are missing a big opportunity to communicate with and understand the world as they experience it. Additionally, this offers a great bonding activity as your child can actually teach you how to set up and use these accounts.  While you are learning, have them give you their passwords.  Remember, online access and cellphones are privileges.  I am not promoting that you stalk your children’s accounts, but you do want to have access in case you are worried about their well-being.  If your children fight this, remind them that they shouldn’t be writing or posting anything that they wouldn’t share with you so there should be no problem with you having access from time to time.  Aside from keeping them safe, many kids will post things online that can be great conversation starters at home!  Note that many of these social media channels have a minimum age to create a profile in the first place.

Remember, if you are having an especially rough patch, it’s a strength to ask for help. A family therapist can be just what you need to get your family back on track!

Bios: Abbie Kelley, MA, LCPC and Julianne Neely, MSW, LSW are licensed therapists specializing in child, adolescent, and family counseling. They share a private practice, Individual and Family Connection, where they treat children dealing with behavior problems, anxiety, low self-esteem, ADHD/ADD, and more. Abbie and Julianne are interactive, solution-based therapists who utilize a variety of techniques to help clients effectively address personal life challenges. They understand that every person and family goes through periods where extra support is needed and they consider it a privilege to step into others’ struggles and challenges in order to offer a listening ear and a helping hand. For more information visit:

If you liked this post, you may also like list post by Abbie and Julianne: Advice for parents: Understanding anxiety in your child

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