Having those meaningful conversations with preteens can be tough! This week, we have author Kathy Buchanan with some great tips to guide you through it!
“Yes, Mommy’s underwear is pretty, but let’s find something else for show-and-tell.”
“Please stop licking the wall.”
“We don’t use the dishwasher to clean your gecko. Get it out of there.”
On numerous occasions in my parenting journey, I’ve been surprised by the words that have come out of my mouth. Those “I can’t believe I just said that” moments. You’ve probably had some similar experiences. But on the flip side of the things we never expected to say lie the things we think “of course we’ll talk about” but never do.
My pondering on the subject began when a friend had a health scare. As she told me: “In the middle of this fear about whether I was going to live or die was a fear that I wouldn’t be able to tell my kids all the things I needed to.” She even created a list of all the topics that she wanted to talk to her daughters about. Everything from how God sees them to how they should be treated by a boy, how to budget, and how to stand up for themselves. She listed out pages of these “yet-to-have” conversations. Good news eventually came, and today she’s in perfect health, but she refers to that time as “a gift.” It reminded her that she needed to be more intentional about those meaningful conversations—particularly with her preteen daughters. With daughters of the same age, I had to agree.
It’s great when those conversations come organically, but we can’t rely on that being the case. So last year, I made it a goal to have more intentional meaningful conversations with my eleven-year-old daughter. Talks on boys and dating, self-esteem and body image, marriage and career, connecting with God and “loving the least of these.” The talks that I knew I wanted to make sure we had before she drove off to college in a few short years. And I learned a few things about having these vital discussions.
- Set aside a consistent time. For me, it’s bedtime a few evenings a week. With five busy (and loud!) kids in our family, finding that quiet space for a heart-to-heart is a challenge, but our pre-bedtime conversations have become treasured time. I take mental notes throughout the day on topics I want to come back to—issues with friends she mentioned at carpool pickup, a mood or behavior, observations she had at the end of an Adventures in Odyssey episode. During our one-on-one time I ask her about these things.
- Listen more than you talk. You might not care that Ellie McElheny got a bloody nose at the cafeteria table or how soggy the cafeteria pizza was. But this time is more about getting your daughter talking, and demonstrating that what matters to her matters to you. If she learns at this age that she can trust your interest in her life, it will be easier for her to share more personal things as she enters the teen years. You’re not merely having a conversation; you’re building trust.
- Do a devotional or read a book together. These things become natural jumping-off points for deeper conversations. They bring up questions and ideas that might not normally arise in everyday situations.
- Occasionally, plan a night away. Go out for dinner together and stay at a hotel. Or set up a tent in the backyard. If you’re on a tight budget, borrow a friend’s guest room. There’s something about that extended one-on-one time with Mom that opens up doors for more intimate conversations. And those sweet moments watching a movie and eating popcorn in a comfy king-size bed together allow the more personal things to emerge.
- Tell your story. We often want to tell our kids only the best about us. But that’s not realistic, and they need to know that. Tell them how you met their dad, what college was like, things you’re proud of, what you regret. Divulge the times you’ve felt close to God—and times when you wondered if he really cared. Share your most embarrassing moments, and your happiest. These aren’t just your stories. They form the fabric of your daughter’s life, as well. They’re part of her heritage.
We only have a few short years with our children, and it’s vital that we have the conversations that matter during that time.
Even more important than getting that gecko out of the dishwasher . . .
Kathy Buchanan is author of Candid Conversations with Connie.