Ha! Did that title fool you into thinking that I actually know how to manage roller coasters of emotions? Parenting preteens is a challenge for sure. Some days I think I’m doing alright and other days I’m just crossing my fingers! But I’m sharing a few ideas for parents in the trenches.

young preteen girl on the beach

To be honest, I actually thought I was doing pretty well at that task with my four older kids.

Or maybe I just forgot how tricky parenting preteens and teens can be.

parenting one day at a time

You know how you forget stuff like how tough it is to be pregnant until you are eight months in and you can’t sleep and you’re just so dang anxious to meet that baby you can hardly stand it?

Anyway, I’m in the thick of this pre-adolescence thing right about now. Some parts I get right, sometimes purely by accident. It reminds me of those miraculous nights when my babies were tiny and they actually slept through the night. I would wake up completely refreshed feeling like I won the lottery.

Every time, I remember trying to determine why they had slept so well. The next night I would painstakingly work to repeat the exact process of the night before… use the same blanket, swaddle just so, I’d feed that baby just how I would remember I did the night before, and tiptoe out just sure all my hard work would give me another night with good sleep. Only to wake from my slumber an hour later, back to the starting line.

Well, that’s kind of how this pre-adolescent time is going with this girl of mine.

Oh there are some good times.  Times when I am a “durable object” patient as can be with outbursts.  There are times when I can get that iron will to bend enough to try something new and she comes out victorious.  Times when all the stars align and that smile comes out and brightens all the world around.

But then there are the times when I can’t do anything right to save my soul.

Ten Tips for parenting PreTeens

I have found a few tips for parenting preteens that have actually consistently made a difference. I’ve been collecting these little “tips” that work so that I can share them with you.  And I’m sharing them here so I can remember them.  Most of these parenting ideas are from a little conference on social technology of all places.  I wish I could give credit to someone in particular but these are my notes from a couple really good talks.

Drink a glass of water.

Random. I know. When kids are upset, have them drink a glass of water. This allows time to slow down and internalize feelings for you and for your child. Maybe I need to drink more water… Try this out and let me know if it works for you.

Avoid Yes or No Questions

Ask questions that require a “real” answer and encourage kids to think and share more than one word. Start more with something like this:  “Tell me more about…”

Give kids their dignity.

Even when sometimes you feel like they don’t deserve it. HA! Help them make their voice heard.  I LOVE the repenting bench for getting kids to talk and articulating feelings as one example.  They keep their dignity as they discuss and take ownership of their actions.

Establish rules together.

Let your kids or all ages be involved in making up the rules. Ask them for their input. “When this happens, how should I react?”  “What do you think is a fair natural consequence when one of us makes a mistake?”

With every child, comes new challenges and situations. As parents and kids work together in new situations it helps both parties feel heard.

Transform vs. Transmit

Everyone has feelings. Preteens, especially are dealing with an onslaught of emotions. It’s important to help kids transform feelings of frustration rather than transmit them. An underdeveloped brain (that of a pre-adolescent child) cannot transform easily. Come up with a strategy to help.

The first step is always recognizing and even validating a feeling, good or bad. And then finding a way to express and manage the more negative feelings in a positive way.

Use the formula LML

LML means “Let Me Listen.” This means you really just listen… and offer minimal input. This is really hard, but it can have a profound impact.

Another formula: V+V=C

Vulnerability + Validation = Connection. This formula will help you create more connection within your relationship. We need to let our kids feel safe being vulnerable when they talk.  Which means we can’t jump in and judge or try to fix. 

Like I said back in this post about connecting with teenagers, we need to be ok to stand back and watch the waves of the rollercoasters that come with all those hormones bouncing around in their bodies.  We need to set and example of letting ourselves be vulnerable right along with them.

Let them be.

Don’t try to pull teenagers out of the “holes” they sometimes find themselves in. We need to get right in there with them and validate how they’re feeling. And then let them figure out how to pull themselves out.

How much can kids learn if they get to work through and solve their own problems? Imagine the confidence they can gain as they are able to develop that autonomy. This can definitely be hard because as parents we feel like we have all the answers.

See them.

Show kids that you truly see them for who they are. I’m not talking about seeing them physically there, I’m talking about SEEING them. See that their problems and worries are real. Especially, see that they are trying. 

A friend once pointed out to me the beauty of this picture of Christ many years ago:

It’s been one of my favorites ever since.

Christ is really THERE with those children as evidenced by those hands cradling that child’s face.  I have taken that to heart with Lucy and even my older kids sometimes.  It helps so much with her moods when I take her face in my hands and look her right in the eye, hopefully spilling out my love to her and letting her know I am THERE.

I love this picture from Max’s wedding where you can see that eye contact with Abby and her dad (so sweet), and also in the background…see me and Lu back there on the right?:

Ok, not quite hands on her face, but you get the idea.  I hope she feels heard. And I think Abby’s feeling “heard” by her dad too… You are never too old to want to have your parent look at you with all that adoration. 🙂

Appreciate the little moments.

I’ve long been a believer that there can be a bazillion tough, excruciating moments, but that if we stop to let the beautiful ones sink in, they have the power to outweigh all the tough ones a hundred fold. I LOVE how beautifully Rachel Nielson explains this principle in the I Am Mom Summit. So many gems in this conference. Rachel’s is one of those talks I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last week.  She is so good!

More parenting posts packed with tips

I’d love to hear other ways people have found to stay even keel with all these hormones running haywire around their homes. Often we talk about girls having these emotional upheavals but I know it’s very true for boys as well, sometimes in just different ways. And I know there are so many good parenting ideas out there. Please share!

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  1. Man, I needed to read this today. My oldest is ten and we are in the thick of preteen emotions. I love these tips. One thing that has helped me is empowering him as much as possible, he feels better and has more self esteem when he feels needed! And for me, I am focusing on connecting with him more, so our "well" is full and we can weather the storms.

    1. Yes I love that thought. They need to feel empowered to do something with those emotions. Dealing with the bad ones and shining with the good.

  2. Good stuff, as always! My oldest is 11 (almost 12). He just got awarded the outstanding student award for our school last night and as we were sitting there at that banquet with him I just got overwhelmed with what a good kid he is. I started wondering how often I tell him I appreciate him. He is such a good kid. We get so caught up with what they should be doing or what they are not doing that we forget to focus on what they are doing and letting them know. I also, need to slow down my whirlwind of life and try some of these gems you just posted!

    PS is it possible for my 8 yr old daughter to be in her preteens? Sometimes I wonder, I hear girls are earlier than boys….ha!

    1. I think it is! I think one of my kids became an official "pre-teen" when she was two! Ha! And sometimes I think my one boy was moodier than some of my girls. I love your thought about remembering to tell them all the things we appreciate and love about them. Love doing this to tell them more personally: https://71toes.com/2010/04/talents.html

  3. I have a toddler and yet I have one suggestion, because it applies to both: Remind yourself that their brain isn't fully developed yet and that the tantrums and emotional upheavals are supposed to happen. It's through tantrums and emotional upheavals that the brain develops. That reminder gives me patience. Not always, but more often than not.

  4. Needed this so much! Since my oldest turned ten I swear a switch was flipped and ALL. The. DRAMA. Which I was not prepared for because she is my least dramatic child. But we are getting there. Thanks for the tips!

  5. My oldest is 11 and feels everything deeply and we’ve been navigating the preteen emotions for a couple of years. One of the best things for him has been hearing me tell him that I felt the same feelings he’s feeling and it’s okay. I think kids feel isolated as they have new feelings that they don’t quite understand and hearing that they are understood is a relief and a force for bonding. It also helps for me to relate to his mistakes rather than just offering advice, so he sees that we parents mess up too and it’s not the end of the world; he’s going to turn out just fine. I think it’s calming for kids and relieves anxiety when they feel understood and accepted just as they are.

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