Tricky But Doable

10 Crucial Steps For Building Trust With Your Tween — & Why It’s So Vital At This Stage

A child mental health expert shares her easy-to-follow method.

Originally Published: 
A young girl talks with her mom.
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You made it through the terrible twos. You survived your year with a threenager. Then, you sailed through a stretch that seemed — dare you say it? — sort of uneventful. But just when you thought you had this whole parenting thing down, your kid morphed into something that would test all of your skills (and patience). Yep, if you find yourself on the receiving end of eye rolls, backtalk, and sudden moody outbursts, you might have a tween on your hands.

So, what's a parent to do? How do you navigate this stage and come out on the other side? Scary Mommy asked Kim Feeney, licensed independent social worker and Iowa-based registered play therapist, for a bit of insight. Here's what she had to say about successfully surviving your time with a tween.

What's the best approach for a parent entering the tumultuous tween years?

Instead of fighting back, Feeney says building a foundation of trust is the best way forward — and an investment in their long-term happiness and success.

"As adolescents strive for autonomy and identity, the role of trust within the parent-child relationship takes center stage. Understanding the significance of trust during this transitional phase is paramount for fostering emotional well-being, academic success, and the overall resilience of [tweens]," she explains.

How can you build a trusting relationship with your tween?

The physical and emotional changes tweens experience during this phase aren't easy. However, learning to let go might be the most challenging part for parents, making learning how and why to build a trusting relationship crucial.

Feeney says maintaining authority while respecting your tween's growing autonomy requires a delicate balance. She breaks it down into these digestible strategies that simultaneously build mutual trust that can grow and maintain a strong parent-child connection that can last a lifetime:

  • Encourage Decision Making: Provide opportunities for your tween to make decisions and choices within safety and family values to foster a sense of responsibility.
  • Negotiate Boundaries: Take a collaborative approach to setting rules and expectations. This gives tweens a sense of autonomy and ownership while helping them better understand the reasons behind the boundaries.
  • Use Transparent Communication: When setting rules and expectations, be sure to use clear communication to avoid misunderstanding and reduce the likelihood of resistance or rebellion.
  • Foster Independence Through Activities: Whether allowing your tween to choose how they can best contribute to household tasks, explore and engage in extracurricular activities, go out with friends, or even take on part-time employment, you'll be fostering their independence while providing valuable life skill learning opportunities.
  • Respect Privacy: Respect your tween's physical and emotional privacy to help build mutual respect and understanding — such as knocking before entering their bedroom or giving them the necessary space and time to process their emotions.
  • Encourage Critical Thinking: While tweens still require your guidance and support, learning to offer them without dictating is vital to building their confidence, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, in addition to letting them know that you trust them to make decisions.
  • Gradually Increase Responsibilities: As your tween demonstrates maturity and reliability, gradually increase their responsibilities by allowing them to take part in planning and executing household tasks, budgeting, and scheduling.
  • Recognize and Respect Differences: Recognizing that your tween is their own person with unique beliefs and desires can help you respect their perspectives, decisions, and way of doing things. This respect encourages self-efficacy and independence while further instilling a sense of trust.
  • Create a Safety Net: Establish yourself as a reliable source of safety, love, and support so that your tween knows they can come to you as they navigate the inevitable challenges that this phase will present.

Feeney believes that each one of these steps is critical towards building trust between parent and child — or, in this case, tweens — and gives them the skills and tools necessary to succeed well beyond this developmental phase.

Says Feeney, "The real-life success stories I've witnessed with clients that have applied these methods] underscore the importance of trust, effective communication, and respect for independence in building resilient and harmonious [parent-tween] relationships."

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