We are their swimming pool walls, writes Christy Herselman.
I once heard psychologist Lisa Damour describe the role of a parent of tweens as “a swimming pool wall”. The function of a swimming pool wall is to put boundaries around the water, and provide a place for swimmers to hold on when they are tired or afraid and need a safe place to catch their breath.
Picture your tween in a pool; the middle of the pool is her life independent of you, and you are the swimming pool walls. When she was little, she hung on to you because she didn’t know how to swim, and you were her constant safe place. But as she has matured, she has grown in confidence and competence, needing more space and freedom to live independent of you. But during this very complex time of rapid physical, social, emotional, and cognitive changes, tweens need our presence more than ever.
How can we provide the safe place for them to come back to while at the same time letting go just enough for them to grow strong, able and confident in the waters of life?
Here are a few things that your tween really needs to know:
• You like them (not just love them). Their minds are full of self-doubt, questions, and insecurities. Knowing you think they are competent, cool, and fun will give them confidence to venture into the water.
• There is nothing you won’t talk about, no question you won’t answer. They are much more likely to come and talk to you in times of worry and confusion if they know you are not only an accurate source of information, but a shame-free zone.
• Home is where they belong. Tweens who feel unconditionally loved, supported, and deeply connected to their parents and siblings are much less likely to flounder in the turbulent waters of identity confusion which come with this stage of life.
• Where the boundaries are. A friend once told me, “I give my kids lots of freedom, but at the edge of that freedom is an electric fence.” Tweens without boundaries can become egotistical and narcissistic. Those with healthy boundaries are usually much more secure and have a healthy sense of their place in the world.
• You are close by. With tweens increasingly living so much of their lives online, they need to know you are aware and paying attention to what is happening, both online and off. Our kids don’t always need us to advise them, fix things or offer solutions. Sometimes they just need a little empathy, a sounding board or someone to talk things through with.
• You will never let them drown. Our tweens are going to mess up and do dumb stuff. They are going to make big mistakes; it is part of their journey into adulthood. But most of all our tweens need to know that we are with them no matter what. Sure, they will need to walk through some consequences and clean up their mess, but you will be with them all the way.
So as our tweens navigate this strange in-between phase of life, let’s be their swimming pool walls: there for them to cling to when they’re feeling weak and vulnerable, boundaries for them to pump against when they push too far, and springboards for them to dive off into the wild adventure that is life.
Get in touch with Christy at email@example.com or visit www.thechat.co.za for more info.