Building trust with your children starts from day one. In the early years, it’s easy. Your toddler learns you give them milk, snacks, and hugs on demand. They know you are their safe space and home base for boo-boos. As they grow into school-age kids, you still get to hear the details about recess and get “best friend” bracelets made for you on the regular. But then, the preteen years hit.
A preteen is defined as a person between the ages of 9-12 considered too young to be a teen but too old to be a child.
My oldest daughter turned nine at the start of 2023, officially making her a scrunchie-wearing, Taylor Swift-loving preteen. I’ve observed our relationship begin to shift slightly as she beings to find her individuality and independence. I’ve watched her connections with her friends deepen and find myself working a little harder to form moments to connect with her as she starts her journey to her teen years.
» » » » » » » RELATED READ: Navigating the Highs and Lows of Parenting Teens « « « « « « «
Here are a few ways I am laying a foundation of trust with my preteen daughter.
Still showing up.
I make sure to maintain a very active presence in our preteen’s life. Do I like to spend my lunch hour sweating on her school’s bike day? Nope on a rope. I do, however, want her to know my support and presence will not fade as she gets older. What is important to her is important to me.
She is exploring her passions and is excited about learning. When she wants to tell me every detail of her Minecraft world, I let her tell me. No matter how boring the subject is to me, I listen and engage. Trust is all about building a relationship and knowing you are being listened to and seen.
Showing up also means listening to her if she voices a concern. Although my tween is well-spoken and brave, there have been instances where she was afraid or unsure of asking a teacher or coach for help. That doesn’t mean I rescue her from any discomfort, but I acknowledge her struggle and we work together to try and find a solution to her dilemmas.
I tell her the truth.
It feels like kids are growing up so much quicker now. She has come home asking a lot of loaded questions. I don’t answer them immediately, but we do have age-appropriate discussions. I never sweep things under the rug. My husband and I believe that if we don’t tell her, someone else will.
Sometimes the truth also means admitting when I am wrong. Whether I drop the ball on a birthday party RSVP or say something in a moment of anger, I let her know I make mistakes too.
Learning and respecting her boundaries.
This has been the hardest lesson in building trust with my preteen. In the infant and toddler years, I found relief in unloading all the details of my worries, victories, and milestones around motherhood with my closest friends. I now have to consider my daughter’s privacy and trust before unloading it all on my tribe.
Maybe it was a ’90s thing or maybe it’s a Hispanic thing, but growing up, I could count on my mom announcing my matters to her sisters (my aunts) like it was the 6 o’clock news.
I know it wasn’t intentionally done to hurt me. However, at that age, I didn’t know that asking to keep things private between my mom and me was even an option. Over time, I just began to keep experiences, questions, and feelings to myself. I didn’t even say anything when I got my first menstrual cycle. I don’t want that for my daughter.
I have learned that some of her struggles are no longer mine to share with others. I have to show her that I am on her team and a trusted source of counsel. Sure, I still send rash pictures to my fellow “WebMD Medical Degree” holding friends. However, I won’t be sharing the name of her crush with anyone. Not that she has one anyway. Or does she? Guess you’ll never know, and I am not sorry.
“I listen to you, you listen to me.”
This is our number one rule. I have to give my husband credit here. He has always said this to both of our girls since they were tiny. It has come into play for the preteen years. We have tried to model that respect is a two-way street. She knows I will always be mindful of her feelings and requests but expect her to in return respect the rules and boundaries we have in place. We want her trust and love but we are her parents first and foremost.
For example, when it comes to the web and social media, we have started asking her if it’s okay to post or share images of her. In return, she knows she can not accept a call or chat with a friend on her laptop without consulting us first.
The worst is far from over.
While the preteen years are challenging, I know I am just waiting in line to ride the teen years rollercoaster. I am taking full advantage of the fact that she still likes me and trying to lay a strong foundation of trust and strengthen our bond so it can last a lifetime. As she is growing into her own person, I am learning and growing as a mom.
I am at the very beginning of the ever-so-painful process of letting her fly. My only wish is that she knows I will forever be her safe space and home base for boo-boos of any kind.
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