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Create a New Parenting Partnership after Divorce

Mastering the Art of Good Listening








by Ellen Galinsky

Surprise! Our kids are growing up. An increasing number of Moms and Dads at the workplace have children who are “young teens”- also known as “preteens,” “middle-schoolers” or young adolescents. The years from 9 to 12 are the “in-between” years and they often seem to fall in between the cracks--as demonstrated by the fact that there’s so much less written about children this age than about younger kids or older adolescents.

One characteristic that defines preteens is the enormous variation in their rate of growth and development. Some are tall, others short; some are physically mature, others not. Many girls begin to look like women, while many boys continue to look like little kids.
Still, it’s hard to make generalizations--even about preteens’ differences--because from year to year so many changes take place. For example, some 9-year-olds seem to be maturing quickly, but it’s at the age of 10 when children typically experience some important developmental turning points associated with adolescence. At this point, for example, many children take a huge leap in their intellectual abilities. They begin to think logically. They apply reason in a more sophisticated way and are able to organize their thoughts so they can solve problems independently. At the same time, they start to understand the consequences of their actions and begin to think deeply about moral and ethical issues.

Be careful what you say, especially about your preteen’s physical appearance. Dads often tease girls about their development or weight gain and kids interpret this as a sign that there’s something wrong with them. As psychologist Lawrence Kutner says, “Look for ways to celebrate the changes they’re undergoing without embarrassing them.”
If your child has a falling out with a friend or there’s group re-alignment and he or she is left out, be a sympathetic listener but don’t try to intervene. Kids need to learn that they can work things out themselves, that all relationships have their ups and downs and friends can get back together again.

Because preteens’ planning and organizing skills are still developing, they may need guidance in using their time. While you might want your child to deal with the consequences of late homework, for example, you still have an important role in helping kids learn good study habits and problem-solving skills. So don’t back down, even if you meet resistance.
Talk about yourself when you were a preteen. Sharing your memories helps kids put some of their feelings into perspective and realize that they are not the only ones who feel clumsy, overwhelmed or frightened. In single-parent families, it might be good to find an adult of the same sex as your child who will share some stories with him or her.
This is sometimes an awkward time for Dads with daughters. As Dr. James Levine, an expert on fatherhood, puts it: “The little girl who once jumped in your lap is as unsure of how to relate to you as you are to her.” He points out that emotional and physical distance go together, so Dads should make a special effort to spend time with their preteen daughters and then “you’ll have a much better sense of when to give her hugs.”

Try not to criticize or nag about small things such as hairdos or clothing you hate. On issues that matter to you and have consequences for the future, take a stand. Communicate clearly and positively to your child what you expect. Be consistent.
Notice if your child stops changing. For example, some kids feel tremendous pressure to stop the weight gain associated with puberty which may be an early sign of a potential eating disorder.
Preteens may seem grownup and independent, but they need you now more than ever. Really listen when preteens talk to you and remember that at this age it might take a while to find out what they are thinking or what is worrying them.

(Taken from Work & Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg and written by Ellen Galinsky).























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