From the Therapist's Desk

HEALING PARENT-CHILD ESTRANGEMENT IN PRE-TEENS AGES 10-12

Older children may very likely express a lot of anger at the absent parent. Developmentally they are learning to make decisions and do so by categorizing everything into two distinct buckets -- good or bad. It 'sucks' or 'it's awesome." Parent get put into these buckets too! You may have to put up with weeks or even months (or even years) of testy, sassy kids while they check you out and make sure you are safe to let back in again.

Once again we need to emphasize the importance of the primary parent in supporting and encouraging the children to have a relationship with both parents!

In many ways, pre-teens are not unlike two-year-olds. They are curious about new things and are trying to become more independent. When they don't get their way, they may act out by being sassy or defiant. A pre-teen might tell their parent they don't know anything and that they are 'embarrassing!' However, they are comforted by knowing that you are not too far away because they need nurturing and loving as never before.

Pre-teens will approach when they need you and the next minute push you way. This is true whether they live with you or not! Sometimes nothing a parent says, does, wears, or thinks will be right -- at least they don't acknowledge this to your face.

Parenting a child this age is a challenge that requires lots of patience. Anticipate that their new 'I know everything' attitude and sharp tongue will have you feeling like throwing in the towel. DO NOT GIVE IN TO THESE FEELINGS!! This is the time when staying in the game is critical to proving that you are there for the long haul, for the good and for the bad.

The key to keeping your sanity is not to engage in a power struggle with pre-teens. You can acknowledge their position without agreeing with them. You are the parent so act like one. You can be present without being intrusive.

Be prepared to have your child play you against the other parent -- especially if there is a high degree of conflict or if you don't talk to each other. The more pre-teens know that you won't or can't check things out with the other parent, the more wiggle room they have to push the limits. A pre-teen who can convince one coparent that the other coparent makes them so scared and anxious that they just have to have a new flat screen tv in their bedroom is well on their way to a successful divide and conquer strategy.

The good news is that parents who can hang in there with children this age will reap tremendous benefits from the fun parts of spending time with a pre-teen. Children this age are able to think and talk about more interesting subjects. They are full of ideas and creativity, and they can be really perceptive about other people and wickedly funny!

If their interest and curiosity are sparked this is a great time to develop talents and interests that will stay with them into their adult years.

Hang in there! Be the parent! Be wise and loving and respectful. It is totally worth it!