A while ago, our son had to switch to a completely new group of classmates. Typically spunky and outgoing, I reassured him he would make friends quickly.
But at the end of his first day, with slumped shoulders, he said, “Mom. I was there for seven whole hours and didn’t make one friend.
Poor kid. I had actually set him up for disappointment by trying to be reassuring.
My friend gave him better advice. To spend time observing classmates to decide which friendships to pursue. To see this as a chance to make a wise choice, rather than rushing to find friends quickly.
Transitions can be stressful and tricky. But these six tips will help you navigate them with your tween.
Acknowledge awkward feelings
Even the word awkward is, well, awkward.
Tweens need reassurance that feeling anxious or uncomfortable is common for peers and adults.
Reinforce this by sharing examples of surprisingly awkward people. When strangers recognized Albert Einstein, he would often say, “Oh yes, people do tell me I look like him,” and then rush away.
Also be willing to share your own stories about handling uncomfortable moments, especially humorous ones.
As a teen, I was promoted in a large department store and I couldn’t wait to make announcements. One time I pressed the microphone button and confidently bellowed, “Attention cars. There is a shopper in the parking lot with its lights on.” Then maturely yelped and hid behind the counter.
Teens love to hear about our blunders and epic fails. And the more awkward, the better.
Talking about anxieties in a relaxed, open way invites further discussion. Use these discussion starters as a family:
- What makes it difficult to talk to new people?
- When have you felt nervous about a situation? How did you push through this?
- What experiences would you have missed if you hadn’t taken a risk?
To keep the lines of communication open, grab your copy of tips near the end of this post.
Explain the spotlight effect
Tweens often feel like a light is shining brightly on them, which is stressful. Discuss with your child that peers will be so focused on themselves, they aren’t even paying attention to others.
“Once you can see that people really are all caught up in their own situations, it will become easier to imagine that the spotlight is not shining on you and highlighting your flaws.” Very Well Mind
Also, help your tween shift their spotlight to others and watch his empathy and social confidence improve. I challenged my boys to invite someone over who was often left out and our most soft-spoken son said, “Mom. I know exactly who to pick.” We practiced inviting his friend over the phone, and had the playdate that week.
Even when his buddy melted down on the way out, our boy learned to see beyond himself.
Create a practical plan
Initiating conversation can be tough. If your tween is willing, roleplay a few scenarios she will likely encounter on the first day of school or when starting a new activity. Arm them with simple conversation starters such as “Which sports do you like?” or “What’s your favorite movie?”
Even the most reluctant tween comes to life when he talks about a topic that interests him.
Brainstorm a few “hooks” like sharing jokes or doing a magic trick. Also encourage him to help others, by holding open a door or lending supplies.
Friendships can be launched over silly jokes, disappearing coins and borrowed pens.
Lunch hours and recess, with a sea of new faces, are intimidating. Encourage your tween to invite others to join an activity. Have her pack a few items in advance — a soccer ball or card game — so she’ll feel ready.
Explore opportunities for growth together
If your tween feels quite shy or uncomfortable in new situations, be intentional about providing growth opportunities. Nudge her to explore areas she is interested in.
- photography club
- working with animals
- volunteering at the library
You can support your tween’s interests by researching new ideas together.
Also, make your home a welcoming place where other children enjoy spending time. Prepare for friends’ visits with activities that will help everyone relax, such as baking together or a having a board game already set up. And keep those chip bowls filled.
My friend Sarah helped her daughter handle significant social anxiety. She invited our family to their house regularly, where her daughter felt most relaxed. As moms, we facilitated activities and conversation, until Sarah grew more comfortable and even took the lead.
Keep tech in its proper place
Technology plays a huge role in tweens’ connections.
My eldest son recently said he wanted to talk to his friend before going to bed, so I passed him the phone. Looking perplexed, he reached for his iphone and said, “Mom, I didn’t mean I wanted to talk with my mouth.”
Teach your teens that online interaction is not the same as socializing in person. In The Digital Invasion, Dr. Hart cautions “the more we come to depend on the social connectedness offered by our digital world, the more intentional we must be in creating and sustaining real connectedness.”
Consider asking everyone to park their devices when friends come over. Prepare for moans at first, but kids will soon learn it’s your family rule.
Remind your tweens they can make eye contact, carry on conversations and figure out what to do next. They can flex their socializing muscles the ol’ fashioned way.
Remember awkwardness is normal
Navigating social challenges is a natural part of every tween’s growth.
Seeing tweens struggle socially is difficult and it’s tempting to try to remove obstacles. But you empower them best as a coach, cheering as they face their challenges.
When your teen pushes through feeling awkward, they will be more willing to tackle the next challenge, with you cheering from the sidelines.
Unless they tell you that now you are being awkward…
Stay connected with your tweens, and they’ll be more willing to listen to your ideas (even on not-awkward days). This tool will help.
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TWO VERSIONS: For parenting KIDS and TEENS.
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