Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Attachment Parenting Tweens and Teens

ap tweens and teensPlease tell me that I am not the only one who has a child (two of them) who can go from perfectly happy and satisfied in every way, to profoundly miserable in 60 seconds flat! Since the boys have gotten older, we’ve been dealing a lot with the confusion of rapid mood swings while simultaneously trying to ‘use my tools’ to pinpoint the catalyst and resolve the issue – which is nearly impossible when you’re blindsided with it out of the blue.

When they were little, it was easier, I think.  I was used to thinking ahead – planning for meals, knowing that teething and asymptomatic/un-diagnosed illnesses might be suspect. As they get older, I think I’ve been taking it for granted that they can communicate well, and figuring that since they have a pretty wide range of vocabulary at their disposal, they will be able to articulate what they need.

Oh, silly Mommy.

I can’t verbalize my feelings half the time, and I have a hard time expressing what I need from someone. I guess I thought that this was a nature vs. nurture thing and was putting a lot of stock in ‘nurture’ and not enough understanding of ‘nature’. There are times when we’re in the middle of one of those ‘moments’ and I can’t help but laugh in sympathy – it’s like talking to myself. In any case, for a while there, we got into really good patterns of communication. Things were going to be smooth sailing from here on out, right?

But then come the hormones… and they throw everything out of whack. In a way, it’s like they’re pre-verbal again; they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate what they’re feeling, or the experience to recognize why they’re feeling like they are. And, of course, no one understands. I get frustrated with that claim, but honestly, even though I have been through it and have an inkling of the feelings of disconnection that those pre-teen years can bring, my own angsty teenage years are so long ago now that I don’t really remember how it felt to be right in the middle of it (except for the huge book of horrible, horrible poetry. I do have that embarrassing reminder).

So how to you cope with those moments where you’re running through your mental list of ‘fix-its’ and nothing is working?

Maybe it’s time to update your list. I’ve found that the best way to do that is to go back to basics. There are plenty of articles out there that cover the basics, both the tenets of attachment parenting, and reminders to do a mental run-down of what factors could be influencing a child’s behavior, such as hunger, over-tiredness, personal attention, physical activity, better nutrition – are they just plain bored? – that sort of thing. You’ve also got your unseen factors – pain, stress, on-coming illness – things that maybe even the child is unaware of.

But most AP articles have the same problem – they’re directed towards parents with babies and toddlers. As my kids have gotten older, it’s been increasingly hard to find AP style parenting advice for dealing with older kids. You might think that’s because by the time our kids get older, we’re got this whole parenting thing figured out – let me assure you that is absolutely not true… or maybe I just missed the handouts that day. In either case, here’s what I’ve learned, handing my own tweens & teens: all of those factors, from food to rest and possibility of illness and stress still matter. But it doesn’t end there, because tweens and teens are dealing with the hormones of puberty, and trying to figure out who they are, the world and how they fit into it.

So the question becomes, ‘how does AP translate to tweens and teens’? I found it helpful to re-frame the basic tenets of attachment parenting to fit our changing needs.

peaceful parenting

  1. Prepare: When my kids were little, I would see these moms at playdates with the kinds of relationships I wanted with my kids. I talked with them, got book recommendations and asked questions. It’s no different now that my kids are older. I have ‘mommy mentors’ that I can talk with and bounce ideas off of, and get recommendations from that make this whole thing seem less daunting.
  2. Feed with Love and Respect: this is a basic tenet of AP, but I feel like it’s an important one. In January, we seriously cut out/down on processed foods and cut out almost all sugar. It’s been a really good thing for my family, and I am slowly seeing results, healthwise, in all of us. It’s about helping them see and feel the connection between what they put into their bodies and how they feel. Feeding with love and respect extends also to teaching the children to plan meals, go shopping and cooking. It’s not just about health, but simply sitting at the dinner table every night to re-convene as a family is a ritual that’s important to us.
  3. Respond with Sensitivity/Communicate Love: this is another one that I feel like translated very well to the older child. Just as it was hard when they were pre-verbal, if they can’t articulate their feelings or needs now, it’s my job to help them find the words or other means of communication to get their point across.  We use ‘love notes’ journals – a notebook that’s passed back and forth between me and each kiddo that we’ve been using for a long time. It’s a memento, and also an excellent communication tool when talking is just too much. Communication also means talking with them… family is a two-way street, so getting their input is important. I don’t have it all figured out, and they’re intelligent! They’ve often come up with ideas or alternatives that end up working very well.
  4. Positive Discipline: One of my favorite recent articles is from MindBodyGreen, called ‘How I Raised Teenagers Who Tell Me Everything Even When it’s Hard‘. One of the points that she makes that really stood out to me is that discipline at this age isn’t about control or even re-direction – it’s about communication. At this point, I feel like we’ve laid a good foundation; now it’s mostly refining and helping to build critical thinking skills. It’s easy to get frustrated or angry when they make (seemingly stupid) mistakes, but I know first-hand the damage that anger can do to trust; I don’t want that with my kids. My goal is to keep the lines of communication open; that can’t happen if their first thought is how they’ll be punished. She sums it up with 5 steps:

    Allow your children to have separate thoughts and values.

    Be curious.

    Get a life of your own.

    Deal with your own history and trauma.

    Learn to listen actively.

  5. Ensure Safe Space/Consistent and Loving Care: this kind of goes along with the above point, but also stands on its own. I have always felt that ‘home’ should be the touchstone for exploration. No mater where they go in the world, ‘home’ will always be here, me and their dad o matter where we live, ready to welcome them. That extends to helping them gain their independence, and also as a matter of having their own space and privacy within our home. Our home is/We are a safe space where they’re trusted, they’re believed, they’re heard.
  6. Use Nurturing Touch: I am not a ‘touchy feely’ person; when my kids were little and especially when they were breastfeeding, being ‘touched out’ was a constant complaint of mine. And yet I have a child whose primary Love Language is touch. I also found it to be an odd thing when my children no longer ‘feel’ like kids to me – they’re bigger than Loverly Husband at this point – the size of grown men! So making sure that there are plenty of hugs and ‘nurturing touch’ is an important element to their development. Finding the right balance here has proven more difficult than I had anticipated, making communication a big thing in this aspect as well – making my needs known, and listening to theirs is key in finding the right way to meet those needs.
  7. Balance/Focus on Simple Pleasures: I thrive on being ‘busy’. I love the constant buzz of activity. But I also need plenty of down time. So do my kids – maybe even more-so, since they’re still finding their place in the world. Taking time to spend one-on-one time with each of my boys individually has become a high priority in the last few years. Soon enough, they’ll be off to college or perusing their own dreams and plans, and I’ll miss having them underfoot.

So there you have it…. my updated take on AP as your babies get older. It’s not perfect; it will be interesting to see what changes are necessary in the coming years. If there’s one thing parenting isn’t, it’s ‘stagnant’!
What would you add?

Warmly,
~h

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