The first precious days and weeks of a child’s life are filled with awe and wonder for parents. The “terrible two’s” of toddler-hood may seem like a challenge at times but they’re eventually outgrown. The first day of kindergarten seems to come and go all too quickly leading to the elementary school years when the moods of children can leave parents exhilarated one minute – and exhausted the next. And then, suddenly, the rude awakening of adolescence takes over!
The adolescent years seem to hit from out of nowhere, and they often leave parents wondering exactly what has happened to that relatively intelligent and well-mannered child they used to call their son or daughter. Well, while it’s true there is no way you can accurately predict exactly when adolescence will begin, there is a way you can begin preparing for it so that it doesn’t seem like such a startling jolt when it does hit (and believe me, it will!)
Dave and Claudia Arp wrote a classic book on this topic of preparing for your kids’ adolescence. It was a huge help to Cathy and me when each of our three daughters hit the teen years. The book was entitled, Suddenly They’re 13 (Or, “The Art of Hugging a Cactus”) In it, they outline “4 Steps for Preparing for Your Kids’ Adolescence” that have proven to be most helpful:
1. Regroup. As we try to parent our teen and pre-teenage children too often we use the same strategies we did when they were toddlers. Well, that’s not going to work. Find a time to get together with your spouse or co-parent to reassess the evolving situation with your kids. You’ve got to be a bit more flexible during the teen years, but temper that flexibility by remaining fair and firm.
2. Release. Be sure to mark the milestones in the lives of each of your kids. Their 13th birthday is a big one, as are the first prom, being able to stay out later, getting a driver’s license, and high school graduation. In marking these milestones you’re releasing them from childhood into adulthood in small, age-appropriate steps.
3. Relate. This can be tough, but a good first objective is to “listen more and lecture less.” It’s also helpful when you remember to “major on the majors” and “minor on the minors.” In other words, try not to make a big deal out of issues that really may not be all that important while keeping an eye open for big life issues.
4. Relax. It always amazes me when I hear from a parent who has grown overly concerned when a child begins “acting weird” right around his or her 13th birthday. This is where I remind the parent that adolescence is perfectly normal! We all went through it, and we lived to tell the tale. Our kids will also. Of course, relaxing does not give you a “free pass” to shy away from coaching and correcting your kids! Be proactive, striving to be fair, firm, and consistent with discipline.
Finally here’s a “Burns Bonus” fifth “R” for the list – and it is:
5. Remember. Don’t keep score of every little mistake your child makes during the adolescent years. Rather, remember what kinds of things you went through when you were a teenager and how your own parents handled things when you messed up. Were they compassionate? Irrational? Understanding? Borrow from their good examples and learn from the bad.
Enjoy your kids’ adolescence. These are fun and foundational years for them — and for you!