Inside: Building a lasting relationship with your middle school son can be easier than you think when you try these genius ways to connect.
“How was your day?” I tentatively asked my seventh-grade son.
“Fine.” he replied in that typical flat tween tone.
“You seem like maybe it wasn’t fine, anything happen?”
“Nope.” Again with zero hint of any emotion.
Boy exits to his room, slunking all the way.
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Some boys have a way of shutting down during adolescence
Wondering where that little boy went who used to burst through the door every afternoon, full of sunshine and energy disappeared to?
The boy who replied, “Love you, too!” before heading out to join the neighborhood kids after school.
The boy who wanted to build Legos for a living and was so easy to talk to?
I promise you, he’s still there, but you may have to be a little more intentional about building a relationship with your tween son now that he’s getting older.
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Middle school can be a hard time to stay close to your son
As the mom of a middle school boy, I am all too familiar with the distance that can start to grow as our children hit those pre-teen years.
There are distractions and hormones and social dynamics and extracurricular activities and so much more. But there is also a lot of beauty as well, and if you find the right mix of freedom, boundaries, and an unconditional belief in the goodness of your son, you can come out the other side even closer.
Something to keep in mind: Good parents can still have tweens that make bad choices. Fantastic parents can still have a child that rebels and struggles, while less-than-stellar parenting can produce exceptional adolescents. I’m sure you can think of examples of both in your life.
Here are six strategies that you can use to connect and get him talking so you can build a lasting relationship with your middle school son.
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Six Genius Ways to Connect and Develop a Strong Relationship with Your Middle School Son
1. Take An Interest In His Interests
Before I had a son, I knew little to nothing about Star Wars.
When he became obsessed with it in fifth grade, so did I.
I found myself googling subplots, movie release dates, and background character information. When I tell you I know way more than any human should about a galaxy far, far away, it’s not an exaggeration.
He loved that I could debate storyline controversies and would plan dates for us to watch documentaries and new episodes of his favorite Star Wars-related series. He also loved the fact that because I was up on the latest Star Wars gossip and shared it with him, it made him the master of sci-fi happenings at the middle school lunch table.
Translation: I made him look good, and he appreciated it. Plus, we can watch endless YouTube videos about the Skywalker family without running out of conversation.
This keeps the door open for us. Our best conversations usually start from something Star Wars related. And when Star Wars starts to fade away, I will jump on the bandwagon to whatever comes next.
2. Get Moving and Stay Centered
I’m not one of those magical creatures that loves exercise, but I know my tween boy needs to physically blow off steam every day, much like he did in the preschool years.
That’s why, even though it’s not really my thing, I can be found tossing a baseball in the yard, doing handstands in the pool, or even just walking around the block with him.
I’m not one bit athletic, nor do I think you have to be to have a connection point like this with your son.
We play old-school Wii bowling together, pull weeds together and wash the car. I have many friends who train for triathlons with their sons, play team sports together(think rec center kickball) or work out as a family.
I also have friends who have helped their sons adopt meditation and other mindful practices such as yoga or affirmations, to help keep their mental health strong.
It’s important to do these things with your son so they will continue to practice and participate them on their own. We are still their most important role models.
As our kids get older, we tend to touch them less.
We’re not carrying them on our hip, snuggling in for stories, or even putting them to bed at night.
Because our sons don’t physically need us like they used to, it doesn’t mean they still don’t need our physical touch.
I’ve found that side hugs, friendly punches to the shoulder, and even just sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the couch are good physical connection points.
Not to say that it’s still not okay to grab and bear hug him, too.
Remember, he may not know how to verbalize his need for physical affection, but it’s still a NEED.
4. Tell His Stories
When my son was two years old, he managed to escape out the window from his room at nap time, scaled the fence in our backyard, and suddenly appeared running across our front yard.
Totally true story.
Somehow, because of Mama instincts or divine intervention, I happened to look out our front window at just the right moment to see his blonde head bobbing across the grass a few feet from the road. I ran out and scooped him up as he laughed and giggled as if he’d just invented the best game ever.
I’m sure it was the trauma of the whole ordeal, but I tell you that memory is so clear in my mind, it’s as if it happened only minutes ago.
Years later, my son loves it when I tell that story, and I’m almost to the point I can do so without hyperventilating. As the tale unfolds, my son always gets a goofy grin on his face when I remind him of his talent as an escape artist and all the other ways he kept me on my toes in a way his sisters never did.
There are all kinds of funny tales that come with raising kids, and sharing those with your children is an important part of bonding as a family unit.
You might think boys aren’t as sentimental or emotionally mature as girls, but they still love to hear the stories that connect them to their family.
Letting your son invite a few friends over for flag football in the yard, a video game battle, or even a board game night is key for you to get to know his friends.
Being willing to buy pizza and ignore loud voices has won me big points. Plus, it’s given me the opportunity to watch my son’s interactions with his buds.
Kids aren’t interested in how old your couch is or if your floors are outdated, they’re interested in hanging out and feeling comfortable.
Grab some snacks and open your home; it’s a connection point that’s often overlooked.
6. Capitalize on Drivetime
If your life is like mine, you spend a ridiculous amount of time transporting people from one place to another.
Between school, sports, church, and extracurriculars, we spend a lot of time in the minivan.
I frequently declare the van a no-technology zone. Most days we turn the music off and use the time to talk.
I highly recommend these car chats as a way to strengthen your relationship with your middle school son for a couple of reasons:
- First, there’s no eye contact involved, and this is a huge deal for tweens/teens, especially boys.
- Second, it takes advantage of an environment with few distractions, possibly sibling free, and can be perfect for tackling tough talks about sex, drugs or other issues that are hot topics in the middle school world today and important to discuss.
- Third, there is usually a start and stop point that is good for difficult discussions.
I’m not suggesting this is a time for lecturing an adolescent held captive by a seatbelt. That’s going to backfire.
But for a variety of reasons, boys aren’t always the most communicative people on the planet. Just because he doesn’t seem interested in your attempts doesn’t mean he’s not hearing them.
Don’t give up on initiating conversations with him. He needs your advice, thoughts, and opinions, even if he doesn’t express it.
Try to keep an open mind and compassionate heart during these middle school years
The consistency of your interest in him is what will eventually give him the security to open up and share more with you.
Your tween boy may not always be up for chatting about his feelings, or anything at all for that matter. But that isn’t the only way to connect with him and build a long-lasting relationship.
Give him space, but make sure that he knows you are available to talk. Open up those opportunities you wouldn’t always think of at this age, like going on a run with him or having him help you with dinner. Expect that there will be lots of small and often surface-level interactions, but over time those will build up and lead to deeper ones.
The most important thing is to never give up on him or your relationship.
Keep trying different strategies until you find one that works for you and your son. He’s worth it.