“You don’t understand!”
“I don’t want to talk about it!”
“Leave me alone!”
If these declarations sound familiar, you are not alone. Most parents experience the brick wall that suddenly appears without warning. You can learn what triggers this and ways to keep the conversation flowing.
Get inside your preteen’s mind to see life from their point of view. This is the road to changing the adult-preteen interaction. Let’s look at a common homework problem, which is the preteen’s to solve, to see how this works.
If they are struggling with homework you may hear them say, “I just can’t do this. It’s too much, and I’m not going to do it!” This is the crucial point in which your choice of response can either create a supportive connection or enrage your preteen.
Do you say, “You have to do it,” or “Why didn’t you start earlier so you wouldn’t have such a problem?” Or maybe you say “I’m sorry it’s so hard.”
The first two statements usually feel disrespectful to the preteen. The first one, a command, tells them that they don’t have the right to decide how to handle their own problems. The second response, interrogating, implies that they must have done something wrong. When a preteen feels hurt, anger flares, the wall goes up, and each of you becomes frustrated. This feels like you’re educating some uneducated thoughts.
The third comment will probably feel more loving to a preteen, which is what they need when frustrated. Other options that usually help them get through their stuck emotional place and think clearer are, “Hmm, I see,” or “You’re really struggling with this,” or maybe you simply put a loving hand on their shoulder and just listen.
Remember that adults always have the power to redirect a potentially explosive situation into an opportunity for closeness and growth with their preteen. Later in their lives, for example, when they apply to college, your way of guiding them will make whether they are self-assured or show doubts about their identity and independence.
Parents’ Words Can Alleviate Student Stress
What are your first words to your child after his or her day at school? We all know the overused “How was school today?” doesn’t buy much.
“What’d you do?”
So, perhaps instead you ask, “What grade did you get on the science test?” or “Did you get your English essay back?” or even “Have you done your homework yet?” Questions like these show that you’re involved in your child’s life and that you know what’s going on, but they also may communicate a more harmful message, especially when they are the first questions asked at the end of the school day.
These kinds of queries suggest that you care more about grades and performance than you do about anything else that might have happened in school that day. Our children internalize the values we communicate. When we over-emphasize our children’s performance in school – how they are doing – as opposed to what they are learning, they may become so concerned with their grades that they start to suffer from stomach aches, headaches, or sleep deprivation.
In our research, we have encountered self-proclaimed “robo-students” who are disengaged from learning; they memorize information for a test or a quiz, only to forget it all once they have regurgitated it for the teacher. We have also witnessed the disturbing effects of academic stress on students’ mental and physical health. In our competitive society, stress seems pervasive. Certainly learning to cope with stress is an important part of growing up. See also this post about the positive sides of a community college education, a great opportunity when they get older.
As parents, we should help our children develop these coping skills, rather than adding to the stress they already experience. As a family, try to define what you mean by “success” in school and the purposes of a good education. Try to keep a healthy perspective about your child’s grades and school performance, and to emphasize that you value engagement with ideas and concepts more than rote learning. The questions we ask and the messages we convey remind our children what really matters most in their education.