This is part two of our series on Family Relationships. You can read part 1, Preparing for Transition to Middle School or High School, here.

In part 1 of our series, Preparing for Transition to Middle School or High School, we talked about the 5 elements of a developmental relationship–that is, a relationship that contributes to a young person’s growing, learning and thriving. 

The five key elements of strong relationships are:

Express Care: Show each other that you enjoy being together.
Challenge Growth: Help each other push to be your best, learning from failures and being accountable to stay on track.
Provide Support: Guide and advocate for each other as you work to overcome obstacles, complete tasks and achieve goals.
Share Power: Take each other’s ideas seriously. Work together to solve problems and reach goals.
Expand Possibilities:  Help each other connect with people, ideas and opportunities that open up new possibilities for the future.

During the transition to middle or high school, relationships take on new importance. Teens do best when they have strong relationships with their families. But navigating those years can come with some challenges for parents and teens alike–especially during times of transition to middle or high school.

Express care

What Does Expressing Care Look Like During Adolescence?

It can be harder to express care as kids grow up. Parents have to find ways to adjust what works for everyone. Expressing care really begins with listening to each other.  When we express care, we respond to this unspoken request: “Show me that I matter to you”.

Caring parent-youth relationships help. . .
• build deep bonds with each other
• youth form positive relationships with other people
• reduce stress, which makes it easier to focus, solve problems, and achieve goals
• youth feel confident about themselves and their future

Most parents know expressing care is important–83% of U.S. parents believe it’s one of their  family strengths. But expressions of care often decline between ages 10 to 14. It’s this age when kids begin to spend more time on their own, and it becomes more difficult to have time together as a family. As a result, family communication can suffer. Kids can seem to push parents away. They may bristle or groan with every hug. Or they may pretend to gag when you tell them “I love you.”

Why Kids Push Away

What’s going on? Around the middle school years, young people are dealing with changes in their bodies and their thinking. They are shifting from being children to becoming adults. They want—and need—to assert themselves. But they also still need parents’ affection and encouragement. Keep in mind that each young person is different. Boys can be different from girls. One child may respond differently from another. The key is to listen to each child to find what works to keep connected–even if how you connect needs to change.

How to Stay Connected

As parents, we need to adjust. Families have to find new ways to express care and show love as teenagers grow up. How do parents express care when a tween or teen seems to say “stay away”? Here are 8 things to try:

Eight ideas to Express Care:

  1. Ask them what they want. What are they comfortable with? Is it okay to give her a hug if no one is around? Or if just family is around?
  2. Adjust. Instead of a hug, give a pat on the shoulder or back. Caring words might be enough when physical affection is off limits.
  3. Respect boundaries and privacy. A hug before they head out the door for school may go over better than a hug in front of all their friends.
  4. Spend time together—and not just doing chores or homework. A few minutes of undivided attention lets them know that they’re important to you and that you enjoy being with them.
  5. Do physical activities together. Play basketball. Run. Build something. Work out. Do what works best for your family.
  6. Keep smiling, joking, and laughing together—even if it means laughing at yourself.
  7. Try not to take it too personally. Don’t assume that a rejection one day will mean the same thing will happen tomorrow. Remember that kids are working through all kinds of feelings.
  8. Share a family meal. Pick one day this week when you’ll all share a meal. As kids grow,  the number of shared family dinners can decline. But family meals play a role in communication and it’s a great opportunity to express care.  

Because we know that relationships grow around the dinner table, Search Institute has put together a Family Meal Kit as a free download. It contains ways to make mealtime count with some planning tools and activities that also include kids in the mealtime preparation. Click here to download it!

family dinner

Sources: Relationships First: Creating Connection that Help Young People Thrive, Search Institute, 2017, Don’t Forget the Families, Search Institute, 2015

Previous Next View All