I’m both terrified and delighted when I’m with my 15-year-old lately.  I’m terrified because she is learning to drive a potential death machine.  I’m delighted because she wants to drive everywhere with me right now.  I have an errand buddy!

I’m terrified when I imagine her driving around by herself in a few months time.  I’m delighted for the freedom it will give both of us.  I’m both terrified and delighted by her growing independence and the thought that she will be off to college in 2.5 years!

Our goal is for her to be an independent, contributing member of society.  But, I also will miss our time together.  We have to be proactive about staying connected. 

I do not want to be ships passing in the night.  I do not want all of our communication to be based around schedules or observing her participation in activities.  I do not want to simply lecture her in our brief time together.

We need to be intentional about our relationship and seek to connect with each other, even as she is growing apart from us.

Although we have done some things well to remain connected, there is room for improvement.  I have researched and put together this list as much as a reminder for me to connect intentionally as to provide ideas for you.

And, it helps this 40-something-year-old mind to remember these ideas by using the acronym, A.R.O.M.A.  I first heard this acronym from Snippets of Stewarts and discovered it fits perfectly with these ideas.  After all, certain smells can connect us to certain people or moments in time!

  • A – Affection
  • R – Respect
  • O – Order
  • M – Merriment
  • A – Affirmation
A.R.O.M.A.: Connect with Your Teen or Tween

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Connect with Affection

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after basic physiological and safety needs are met, psychological needs are next.  This includes love.

According to Jesus, the greatest commandments center around love.  Love God. Love others.  Relationship is the heart of Christianity.

Parents, we must be strong enough to love our adolescents as a whole.  This includes their good and bad parts.  This love is unconditional!  We accept the teen/tween, even when we need to correct the behavior.

Our teens and tweens may not remember what we say, but they will remember how we made them feel.  Let’s nurture our children in a warm, caring environment!  Parents, consider making an emotional connection with your adolescent so that he stays rooted in your family.

How do we connect to our teen or tween emotionally?

Fill your adolescent’s emotional love tank!  According to Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the *5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The  Secret to Loving Teens Effectively, all teens should be shown love in these 5 areas:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Physical Touch
  3. Quality Time
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Gifts

Words of Affirmation

According to Dr. Chapman, teens can feel rejected by negative words.  “Affirming words speak most deeply to the teen’s emotional need for love.”

Use Words of Praise.

Be specific and sincere when you praise your adolescent!  And, affirm your child in front of others for greater effect.

Use Words of Affection.

Obviously, this means saying, “I love you.”  But, also consider how your words show that you value and enjoy your teen!

In our family, we almost always end our calls and texts with “I love you.”  Even when it is awkward.  Even when it is in front of others.  Plus, it is just plain fun to invent different ways to say “I love you” using emojis and other languages when texting!

Physical Touch

As infants, our children bonded through physical, skin-to-skin contact.  As teens and tweens, sometimes physical touch draws them closer, and sometimes it causes them to pull away.  Parents, we must read their cues (moods, nonverbal cues, etc.) and the situation (Does it seem childish or celebrate an accomplishment?)!

In our home, holding hands might be a source of connection.  Another moment, it might seem like a controlling behavior.  We have learned that playful physical touch is acceptable most times!

Quality Time

Usually, when we think of connecting with our teens/tweens, we think of father-daughter and mother-son type dates.  Quality time is less about a checklist of things you should do with your adolescent and more about the relationship.

One-on-one time is great for giving your teen/tween your undivided attention.  The keys are:  1.  Your child should be the focus rather than the activity.  2. Quality conversations occur when you talk with each other rather than have a monologue.

Our oldest daughter likes to go to the gym with The Man a couple times a week.  Although, it is dangerous when he makes her laugh while she holds iron weight above her head!  They have multiple inside jokes from their gym time.  Plus, they have great conversations about what is happening in her life, or about the human behavior they observe there.

Our youngest daughter still likes reading with me, even though she is in middle school.  Books make great conversation starters when she finds a connection to her life.  We recently finished reading *The Help and then watched *the movie!

Acts of Service

“Parenting is a service-oriented vocation,” shares Dr. Chapman.  On the one hand, we give and do so much for our children.  On the other hand, we want them to learn important life skills in order to function independently.

Our daughters are expected to contribute to the household and have responsibility for their breakfasts and lunches.  When one is sick, I will unload the dishwasher and make breakfast/lunch for her.  She knows it is her responsibility usually, but she feels loved when I show her empathy through this act of service.  In return, when I am sick, our girls step up to help out more.

Gifts

I must admit that I struggle with the concept of gifts as a love language.  Materialism and comparison are just two of my concerns!

But, Dr. Chapman points out: “Gifts are visible, tangible evidence of emotional love.”  Even a little thing, such as new socks, can be a “gift” if presented as one!  And, gifts should not take the place of the other love languages.

We find that gifts are more powerful when our girls’ interests are taken into account.  And, it helps when the gift is something they can use long term.

Please help me out in this area!  Scroll waaaay down and share how you connect with your adolescent by giving gifts!

Connect with Your Teen or Tween Effectively

Connect with Respect

Two ways come to mind in regards to connecting with your teen/tween through respect.

Allow for growing independence.

Oh, parents, this is so hard for me!  I have to remind myself that it is developmentally appropriate to want to hang out with friends at the nearby beach and grab a bite to eat!  Yet, allowing our adolescents reasonable independence draws us closer when we are together.

Along those same lines, we allow our teen and tween’s ideas and opinions to be considered.  We honor their maturity and they value their time with us more.

Our girls strongly desire independence which we give them, with limits.  They also desire alone time, which we give them, with limits.  This creates a Win-Win situation.

Their Win:  When they are responsible, their “ropes” lengthen and they earn more independence.  Our win:  They are much happier participating in activities with family and friends such as get-togethers, dinners, hiking, and game nights several nights in a row!

Seek to develop healthy communication skills and strategies.

Healthy communication is a HUGE aspect of connection.  Unhealthy communication leads to division.

Listen to your teen/tween.

Show interest in what she is saying.  Ask clarifying questions to try to understand.  Be empathetic to her feelings and experiences.  Ask about her thoughts and opinions.

When you listen to the little things, then she will trust you enough to tell you the big things.

Guide rather than lecture.

This is by far one of the hardest things for me.  As a teacher, I have to be careful not to slip into lecture mode!

Don’t jump in to solve perceived problems or share your two cents.  Instead ask questions such as:

  • “What do you think?”
  • “How could you handle that?”
  • “What could you do?”

I’m *learning* to ask, “Would you like to know my thoughts?”  So far, the response is affirmative, but I’m preparing for when our girls don’t want to know my thoughts!

Be clear.

Have you seen the article about the #1 Marriage Killer being unmet expectations?  Often, these assumptions go unsaid, which contributes to the frustrations.  Relationships with our teenagers can turn sour when one side’s expectations are not met.

Our adolescents become frustrated when we assume that they know what to do and become upset when they don’t do it!  However, we cannot expect them to know what they don’t know!

Likewise, when one of our daughters starts acting passive aggressive, I find myself saying, “Say what you want in a calm manner.”

The response is incredibly different when our daughter says, “I want some leftover Mac and cheese, too,” versus, “You’re so selfish!  You never share!”

And yes, I am guilty of saying, “We are not mind readers.”  But, it is true.  Our girls must tell us their thoughts/wants/wishes directly!  When our communication is clear, they are more successful in their endeavors!

When our communication is clear, they are more successful in their endeavors! Click To Tweet

Monitor Your Reaction.

Parents, this is really difficult, especially if you are exhausted, stressed out and you have reached your limit.  But, parents, this is so important because our response can determine our teen/tween’s behavior.  As I stated in the Conscious Discipline post, our reaction can lead to peace, connection, and reflection, or our reaction can lead to anger, defensiveness, and rejection.

Punishments and arguments break down relationships.  It is more effective for me to ask, “What is your goal?  How do you think you could achieve that goal in a better/ more respectful/ more thoughtful way?”  We find that this works for curfews, money issues, sibling squabbles, etc.

Sometimes, I have to monitor my reactions to a repeated behavior.  Rather than nag about the behavior, I find that it is helpful to ask for our daughter’s help in solving the problem.  For example, if an item is left out every single day, we brainstorm ways to help her put the item away, as well as, a 1-word reminder that I can use. Since she agreed to this solution, she will respond to this reminder immediately with a good attitude.  Otherwise, there will be consequences which we discuss ahead of time.

Stating the problem and getting her input for solving the problem makes her more agreeable.  

Stating the problem and getting her input for solving the problem makes her more agreeable. Click To Tweet

The hardest reaction for me to monitor is to give my opinion or advice.  I want to be a resource for our daughters, not a judgmental know-it-all.  As mentioned previously, I am learning to ask our daughters if they want my advice or opinion.  But parents, do you have any helpful advice?  If so, please share in the comment section below!

Connect through Order

Unfortunately, we do not connect with our daughters when we try to create “order” in our home.  I have visions of our family working together to organize and clean the house in harmony while singing and dancing.  Oh, I *wish* we did!  But, the reality is that “ordering” our home often creates more conflict.

For us, “order” means routines and traditions.  Plus, “order” requires strategies to handle stress and conflict.

Routines and Traditions

Simply search Pinterest for “Ways to Connect with Your Teen/Tween/Daughter/Son/Middle Schooler” for more ideas than you could possibly implement.  Alternatively, check out my Connect with Your Teen/Tween Pinterest Board.  Some of the listed ideas may help you create new traditions!

Routines can be used to help create “order” in the home.  We have routines for unloading the dishwasher, doing laundry, etc.  A routine becomes a habit that we no longer have to spend precious energy on.

You probably have some connecting routines and traditions already in place such as:

Family Dinners

With the television off and phones put away, dinner together can be a powerful point of connection.  We typically ask, “What was your favorite part of the day?” to get the conversation started.

Family Walks

It is always difficult to get everyone out the door.  But, we end up laughing and creating new memories such as “dance walking.”  (Don’t ask.)

Family Games

These may be board games, X box games, basketball games at home, kickball at the nearby park, or even bowling.  Often there are tears (from laughter).

Going out for Impromptu Treats

Ice cream, doughnuts, and yoyo cookies from Publix are all things we do not keep in the house.  So, it’s a big deal for us to load up and grab a treat!

Good Night Routine

This is a time to be silly, share concerns, snuggle, and pray.  Now that the girls go to bed later than we do, we still make time for our routine!  We just have our routine a little while before they actually go to sleep.  This also makes it a perfect time to shut off and put away electronics.  I can imagine that even when they are grown with families of their own, I’ll probably send whatever is the future equivalent of a text saying, “I love you. Good night.”

Handle stress and conflict in healthy ways.

Routines and traditions can be the fun side of “order.”  Another part of “order” involves ordering our emotional lives.

Minimize stress.

Parents, we need to organize our own lives to reduce our stress levels.  In doing so, we open the doors to teaching our adolescents how to reduce stress in their lives as well.  Although it looks different in different families, consider

  • Adequate sleep
  • Healthy, nourishing food
  • Healthy activity levels
  • Boundaries on your time
  • Financial organization.

Keep in mind that small consistent deposits in these areas add up over time!

Learn to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner.

Many strategies in the post about Sibling Conflict apply to any relationship.  It is so important to learn how to argue without being unkind, resolve a problem without avoiding it, and repair the relationship.  Empathy is helpful in resolving conflicts as it helps us to see from another person’s point of view.

Connect through Merriment

I can fall into the trap of being too serious with our girls.  After all, there is so much to learn, so much to do and so much for which to prepare.  This is especially true of our High Schooler.  Fortunately, The Man is playful enough for the both of us!

We have family inside jokes, play ridiculous games like “Ninja,” and play chase dance around the house (again, don’t ask!).

Songs

Our family uses songs as “memory touch points.”  They are often words we make up that piggyback on familiar tunes, such as “Trees have leaves” sung to “3 Blind Mice” while hiking in the mountains.  Yes, this sounds ridiculous, but we were determined to scare the bears and mountain lions away!  And now, it is an inside joke.

Sometimes, the song is completely made up, such as when The Man sang about “Dang-er-ous Curves” in the mountains of Tennessee.  Other times, we use familiar songs that relate to our circumstances.  “On the Road Again” and the beginning of “Born to Be Wild” (“Head out on the highway…”) became our theme songs to release tension on our 3,000-mile month long camping trip!

Helicopter Mom Image

Go with it.

A clever friend of mine has been accused of being a “helicopter mom.”  Guess what her Halloween costume was?  She made a cape with a giant H on it and wore a propellor cap!  She also put a Snickers bar on a skewer for her teenager who adds “roasted poop sticks” to their grocery list.  (She doesn’t recommend this as it only encourages them more!)

Our teens are clever and hilarious!  Parents, let’s recognize and revel in it.  (Or, at least let’s recognize the appropriate humor.)

Teen Boy Grocery List

Try something new.

Depending on personalities, trying something new together can lead to much hilarity!  This may be trying a new food like every flavored (jelly) beans.  Or, it may be trying a new skill such as paddleboarding.  It may simply be traveling someplace new for priceless adventures and memories!

Ask, “What are 10 activities you like to do?”

Adolescent attitude is so much better when their ideas are included!  Plus, you get to know your teen or tween better when they express their opinions.  As they continue to grow, their ideas of fun change as well.

Adolescent attitude is so much better when their ideas are included! Click To Tweet

Sometimes, previous fun activities are brought up.  For us, this is laser tag!  (Remember, we have girls.).  It becomes a once-in-a-while activity.  Granted, our daughters occasionally present outlandish schemes that are immediately discarded.  However, some creative ideas become future gifts or vacation activities!

Connect with Affirmation

Everyone wants to feel loved and valued.  Parents, imagine how much confidence this gives your adolescent when she feels she is important to you and loved by you!  Once again, please refer to the 5 Love Languages section at the beginning of this post.  Consider these ideas as well:

Pray with and for her.

Every day, we give thanks for our girls in their hearing.  When our daughters experience trouble, we pray together.  And, believe me, we parents get down on our knees on our own as well!  They know we care because of our prayers.

Additionally, out of gratitude for their health and strength, we support 2 children in other countries through child sponsorship programs.  As a family, we pray for these children.  We take turns writing notes, drawing pictures, and sending photographs.  This family connection over caring for these two children led us to contribute to medical care for children in other countries.  Our family cares and prays for each other and others, as well.

Let your teen or tween know you want the best for him!

We want what is best for them.  We want to protect and lead our teen and tween even as we prepare them for handling future challenges.  We have their best interests in our hearts.

Parents, have you ever actually said this to your children?  Do they know that you make difficult decisions, and even go against the crowd because you love them?

Our daughters don’t always like our decisions, but they know that our decisions come from a place of love.  When we make an unpopular stand, The Man and I have said, “You know that we do this for you because we love you.  We want what’s best for you.  We want you to live the good life.”

Allow for their input.

As your teenagers mature, treat them with maturity by allowing for their input.  Be flexible and allow for your teen’s ideas to be considered.  This affirms that they are thoughtful and trustworthy.  It shows that you value their ideas, too.  And, once again your adolescent feels loved by you.

Don’t give up.

Parents of difficult adolescents:  Please be encouraged to pursue your teen or tween!  They can be exhausting.  You may feel like you never get a break.

Please make sure that you have a support system in place to encourage you.  You ARE doing the right thing by loving them unconditionally.  You ARE doing the right thing by staying strong in your boundaries.  Love is unconditional.  Freedom is earned.

Remember to be soft on the person and hard on the problem.  Much teen behavior is normal and sometimes it helps to hear this from others!

If needed, please seek professional help.  A third person can act as a negotiator between you and your adolescent.  You might learn additional parenting skills.  Your teen will feel “heard.”

In a Parenting Great Kids podcast, Dr. Meg Meeker stated, “We all wound our children.  If your child feels your deep love and desire to connect, you can be forgiven.  There is always hope to repair a relationship.”

Parents, have hope!  Let your teenager know that you WANT to have time with him.  As an adult, he may remember how that felt and come back to you.

Final Thoughts

Parents, it is natural for our adolescents to move away from us as they form their own values, opinions, and support networks.  It is healthy for our teens and tweens to seek independence.

Effectively connect with your teen or tween through a healthy relationship of love and respect. The idea of A.R.O.M.A. goes beyond a simple checklist of things to do together. Purse the heart of your adolescent!

Parents, how do you stay connected to your teen or tween?  How do you give gifts as a way to bring you closer to your adolescent?  Please let us know in the comments down below!

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