My easygoing 10-year-old now suddenly snaps when corrected, while my 6-year-old is starting to act like her tweener kuya, too.
With quarantine measures dragging on, we may be spending more time at home but not necessarily happily together. Lines blur as workspace and the pressure it brings invades our homes.
In a webinar for the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals Alabang East chapter, developmental psychologist Dr. Angie Sievert-Fernandez showed a clip of a TV ad where a young boy was being scolded at dinnertime. It ended with: “A national study showed that three out of four Filipino teenagers would rather not have meals with their families. Gawing masaya ang hapag-usapan (Make mealtimes happy).”
“We may be connected but there’s no connection—the energy that exists between two people when they feel seen, heard and valued, when they can give and receive without judgment, and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship [is not there],” said Sievert-Fernandez.
She shared what we can expect from our children as they enter their tween years:
Tweens (kids from 7 to 11) are more independent and have a clearer idea of right and wrong. They want to be appreciated and successful, so they can set goals, solve problems and think critically. They love games with rules, exploring ideas, and are able to reason and negotiate. Their friends are very valuable, and they prefer to be with their own gender.
Teens (12 to 18 years old) are torn about their independence and think they are invincible. They are very body-conscious and interested in co-ed activities and sexuality. Their privacy and being accepted by friends are important to them, as well as self-determination and decision-making. Their behavior and moods can swing to the extremes.
Fernandez said we must understand our children’s stage in an environment of unpredictable events, health and well-being, technology and media, amid the pandemic impact of isolation, frustration, anger, uncertainty, grief, anxiety, trauma and boredom.
Given all this, how can we connect with them? “Turn down the shark music,” she advised, referring to the ominous “Jaws” soundtrack. When voices are up, senses shut down. It makes us jump to conclusions, which gets in the way of connection.
Then, chase the “why.” For instance, when your child shuts herself in her room or answers monosyllabically, is she hungry, angry, lonely, tired or sleepy? How you talk to them matters, too.
A common thing she hears from patients is: “When I tell my parents I’m sad, I’m told I should be grateful,” or variations of how parents were “during their time.”
“This doesn’t work. You lived in a different world from now. That doesn’t help,” explained Sievert-Fernandez. However, she said that values are not time-bound so that doesn’t change.
Tweens need to foster positive feelings about themselves, others and their environment. They need to explore and test their own ideas, skills and talents, and be shown how to use their potential positively. They must have their feelings and concerns recognized and respected.
“Ask specifics, like, ‘What was the best part of your day, or the most difficult?’ instead of general questions. Encourage them to talk about their emotions and the possible reasons for these. Help them learn conflict management by modeling it for them,” said Sievert-Fernandez, who shared that one of her children once said to her, “That’s why I like talking to you, because you don’t talk.” Listening is very important.
Teens must have strong, positive role models. They need their opinions and ideas to be recognized and respected, too. Let them learn from their mistakes and fix self-destructive behaviors. They need to be educated and led into adulthood.
How? “Listen, listen, listen. Allow for guided decisions, and recognize their independence and individuality. Engage them in conversation, not a lecture, or they won’t listen,” she warned. When there is resentment, there is no connection.
Sievert-Fernandez shared more tips for positive communication:
Stick to “I” messages. Instead of “You’re so lazy,” say: “It makes me feel so frustrated/upset seeing your messy room, please clean up.” This way, you don’t attack their character. It makes them less resentful and they will be less likely to tune you out.
Avoid dismissing their concern, belittling, name-calling, blaming without clarifying the cause, giving a moral lecture or threatening, as this shuts down the thinking part of their brain.
She quoted Renee Jain: “The way we speak to our child matters, for those words travel beyond their ears, settling into the creases of their hearts and the crevices of their self-worth.”
Sievert-Fernandez added, “The most effective parenting strategy is to focus on the relationship. As children grow and develop, the way we communicate with them needs to evolve, too.” —CONTRIBUTED