Kids Connecting with Kids
As your kids and teens grow and develop, friends and socializing becomes increasingly important to them.
When your kids are younger, you generally have control over friend time and play dates. As they grow and mature, kids and teens will want to figure out their own friends and activities. This can be a challenging time for families to keep up, to assist with any problems that might come up, and to know when to allow more independence. Here are some helpful areas to explore along the way.
- Know the Development
Being aware of child and teen development helps you to know what is typical, and what might be cause for concern. For example, when your children are younger, play is a big part of growth and learning. When they are pre-teen or teenaged, friends, sports and activities are a big focus for them. Knowing these stages and the general ages are associated with each one will help you navigate through them. Visit Healthy Child Manitoba for programs, supports and strategies, as well as for information on development through early childhood to teens.
- Communicate Early and Often
Developing good communication with your kids and teens will help them to navigate changes throughout their lives. Try to be open to a variety of topics, so that kids and teens know they can bring concerns to you and discuss them openly. Ask “how” questions often – such as “how did you feel about that” or “how are you going to solve that?” and try to avoid “why” questions as much as possible; kids and teens often don’t know “why,” so focusing on this can stop further communication with them. As talks are often brief, try to find those “teachable moments” when openness to sharing and listening might occur.
- Talk About Sex
Talking about sex and sexuality is difficult for most families, as there is often the worry that introducing the subject will promote more curiosity and exploration. However, not addressing sex leaves the door open for kids and teens to talk to each other, which often means lots of misinformation. As there is no set “recommended age” to introduce this topic, individual families can determine and prepare for a comfortable and appropriate time. You may want to discuss how to address sex with your family physician, or with a nurse or other helping professional. Some practitioners may wish to see you together with your child or teen depending on the topic and your concerns. If you don’t have a regular primary health provider, you can go to the Government of Manitoba website, Department of Health “Family Doctor Finder” to connect you to primary care.
- Set “Health and Safety” Rules
As rules are often at the centre of most negotiation and debate in families, emphasizing the “health and safety” aspect of important rules can help increase family cooperation. Health and safety rules cover those aspects of life that can pose a serious risk. For younger children, these rules may involve crossing the street, staying in the yard, or only going to a friend’s house with permission. For pre-teens and teens, the rules may involve more freedoms – such as TV shows, friends, activities, and curfews. When trying to set rules related to health and safety, try to talk about them calmly. Set a time to discuss these rules with all necessary family members present and ready to converse. Calling a “family meeting” to discuss health and safety rules can help set a neutral tone. A respected family mediator can also help to handle more heated discussions.
- Know Your Kids’ Friends
For many kids and teens, the journey to independence means experimenting, or “trying on” different styles, friends, music, groups, and interests. It is not unusual for pre-teens or adolescents to suddenly declare that they are independent, grown-up, or that they want to look quite different. A lot of the time, these decisions can be linked to them having met a new person that they think is cool.
- Try to know the friends that your kids and teens usually hang out with, and try to meet any new friends of theirs at least once. As this can be a challenge, you can offer to drive to meet new friends,, or agree to have new friends of your kids or teens over to your house to meet them. Try to meet their parents or care-givers too, and exchange phone numbers with them in case curfews are missed, or you don’t know where your kid/teen is.
- Volunteer to help with school and sport activities. You don’t have to take on the full job of coaching a team or leading a group, but you can help with occasional supervision or transportation to an event or game.
- Attend games and school open houses for another way to meet friends and their families.
- Allow inviting some friends over for a movie and popcorn night, or just to hang out. Bringing food out is a good way to interact with them and get to know them.
- Involve some of your kid’s friends in a family outing – like a trip to the pool or park, for another good way to include them and familiarize yourself with their interests. If you see any red flags, such as excessive secrecy or rude behaviour, you can raise these privately, to see how he or she views this behaviour. You might be surprised at what your kids or teen finds cool or uncool about their friend.
All families have disagreements and conflicts, and sometimes things do not get resolved easily. There are times when families may want to take a step back and consider how they are coping with disagreements and struggles, and perhaps try some new ways to get through discussions. Check out “Resolving Differences” in this section for more ideas on keeping things cool when times get tough.