There are some ways to stop your kid from instantly tuning out

The big kid years are difficult—and not just for kids themselves. The grade-school/tween age encompasses kids between 8 and 12, the bridge between childhood and teenager-dom. One day your kid is playing with Barbies, and the next day everything you say is boring and they want you to buy them makeup. It’s not easy to make this transition with your child, and communication can definitely suffer.

Below, we break down some of the more common phrases used by parents trying to connect with kids at this age—what works and what doesn’t—with the help of Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in parenting, child development, mental health, and social-emotional learning, and the author of Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem. 

1. “You always/you never”

Allow your kid the space to grow out of behavior you may view as problematic without constantly reminding them that they once engaged in it. “Young adolescents are changing so rapidly, anything they did last month was done by an entirely different person,” Kennedy-Moore says.

“Try to start every day with a clean slate for your child. One of the most loving things we can do as parents is to develop amnesia for the mistakes and struggles our kids have had in the past. This gives them room to grow instead of anchoring them to the past, and helps us be open to embracing the new people they are becoming.”

2. “When I was your age”

You may think you’re being relatable, but trying to convince your kid you know how they feel because you were also a kid once is probably not going to work. “Tweens will instantly tune you out if you start talking about ‘ancient history,’ especially if they’re talking with you about a problem,” says Kennedy-Moore. “And they have a point: the world has changed drastically.” We didn’t live through a pandemic as a kid or even imagine a world where everyone would have a cell phone in their pocket.

Give kids the space to explain themselves without weaving your own life experience into the equation. That’s not to say you should never talk about yourself—just be sure to center your child when they come to you with a problem.

3. “You should just…”

Be aware of language that immediately belittles your child’s experience. “Your tween’s dilemmas may not seem difficult or important compared to adult concerns, but they matter to your kid,” Kennedy-Moore reminds us. Work with your child to unpack their own feelings about what is going on in a given situation, rather than trying to resolve the issue for them—and in doing so, maybe inadvertently making it seem like whatever they’re going through “isn’t a big deal.”

4. “I miss the age you were when…”

One day you have a child following you around everywhere and hanging on your every word, and the next day that same child would rather do anything else than hang out with you. That’s tough! But we have to remember that developing independence during the tween years is normal, and not an attack on who we are as parents or people.

“This stage can also be difficult because we may feel a new distance separating us from our young adolescents,” Kennedy-Moore explains. “It can be confusing and hurtful when our beloved children suddenly seem to view everything we say or do in the worst possible light.”

So what do we do? Kennedy-Moore says this is the perfect time for you to move toward greater independence, too. “Developing interests and enjoyable activities beyond your role as a parent is satisfying, and it helps you keep things in perspective.”

Related: How I’ve Managed My Newfound Freedom as My Kids Become More Independent

5. Extended nagging [insert any phrase here]

This is probably the hardest one because as parents we know that there is a lot to remind kids of at this age! But are we being excessive? Couple this with the fact that their stress tends to rub off on us, and you may find yourself in an environment ripe for nagging and power struggles. “Nagging irritates teens,” says Kennedy-Moore. “If you have an important point to make, compress it down to one sentence, say it, and then get out of the room. The parent-vs-kid battle is too easy for teens.”

And of course, be gentle with yourself. This too shall pass, and it is really difficult to witness the transition from an ever-dependent child to an increasingly independent tween.

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