As kids get older, it can be difficult for parents to stay as connected to them as when they were small. Their lives get busy, they have more homework, after-school activities, and become more social with their peers. It’s all good stuff, but it can make it tough to find time to spend together. Tweens sometimes become more private and are not as willing to share their thoughts as they strive to become more independent. Even simple conversations can become a challenge.
If you are having some trouble connecting with your middle-school-age child, here are 10 suggestions to try that have worked for me:
Baking or cooking
Being in the kitchen together has always proved to be a fun activity. My kids like baking. Looking for recipes and cooking together has always sparked conversation. Plus, homemade treats taste better and are better for you because you know the exact ingredients. My son also likes helping me chop vegetables to get dinner ready.
I know I am not alone in feeling like an Uber driver to my kids, given their busy schedules. But before long, they will be driving themselves, so use this chore as an opportunity.
Pick-ups tend to be the time my kids are most willing to talk about their day. Everything that happened is fresh in their minds. I have a rule of no phones or headphones in the front seat; if I am kind enough to drive, they can be kind enough to converse.
When I was a kid, I loved to watch "Family Ties" and "Happy Days" with my parents and brothers. These shows brought us all together, and to this day we sometimes reminisce about plot points.
Now, as a parent, I love TV time with my kids. Our shows include "Survivor" and "Top Chef." We sit on the couch together and talk about the contestants during commercial breaks.
While I may not quite understand my son’s love of Post Malone’s music, he is equally perplexed by my Madonna obsession. We have a great time in the kitchen playing songs for each other on iTunes.
He also gets a kick out of trying to teach me dances such as the “Kiki Challenge.” I never quite got the hang of it, but if he is having a bad day, I just start dancing and he cracks up.
When the kids were little and I was exhausted, they would say "One more story" and it sometimes got under my skin. Now, I pine to hear that request. Even though kids may be too old to be read to, it's still nice to sit together and read.
Sometimes when my son is doing homework reading, I will come in with my book, too. It's a quiet way to connect, and sometimes we discuss what we are reading. I also think it’s important that he sees me read for pleasure, because I know he sometimes thinks of reading as a homework chore.
Bowling is one of our favorite family activities, and we all stink at it! Bumpers make it easy for kids of any age to play, and you can participate in any season. My middle-schoolers also like mini golf and escape rooms when we have a free afternoon.
Ask about their day…
But not as if they are a witness on trial! Questions such as “How was your day?" may solicit a response of “Fine,” so find a different way to ask. Take a look at their syllabus so you can inquire about a topic they are studying. Or ask about light stuff, such as “Anyone have anything good for lunch today?” Or try one of these excellent conversation starters that really get kids to open up.
Share your day, too
My kids are more inclined to share stuff about their day if I share about mine. They like hearing about people I have interviewed or what topics I am researching for upcoming articles. They would rather be in a back-and-forth conversation rather than me just asking them tons of questions.
Play a game
We love playing Bananagrams, Uno, Boggle and Jenga. These games don’t take that long to complete and can be played with two or more players. My son and I also like playing Scrabble on my iPad when we are on flights or waiting in the doctor’s office. When our whole family is together, Scattegories is our game of choice and my college daughters will insist we play at least once when they are home from school.
Take an interest in what interests them
A few days ago, I mentioned the trade of Odell Beckham to my dad and he cracked up.
He said, “I cannot believe you are my daughter — you used to hate sports! When did you become such a fan?”
And I said, “I’m not a fan of sports, I am a fan of my son.” My son loves sports, and this is a case of if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Even when my son is not in a talkative mood, he always has something to say about sports. To connect with him, his older sisters and I agreed to be in a family fantasy football league. It was such a bonding experience, we all decided to compete in a March Madness pool together.