Archive of ‘Austin Family Counseling’ category

Parenting the Preteen

Preteens are among one of the most difficult age groups to parent. I say this with grace and understanding to all parents because parenting is already a tough job to manage. However, the unique needs of a child in this growing stage of life are often misunderstood or neglected. Through the ages of 8-12 years old, a child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development shift tremendously; that is why I love working with preteens so much as a therapist: I get to see them grow in every sense right before my eyes. Parents must adapt their ways of thinking in order to best support this stage of life. A preteen requires respect, understanding, and open communication with their parents. I believe parents will experience positive effects from maintaining clear, reasonable boundaries, fostering their child’s independence, and respecting their identity exploration. Also don’t forget: it’s not personal!

Create a Balanced Relationship

Parenting, much like life itself, is about balance. Therefore, it is imperative when parenting preteens to create a balanced dynamic between parent and child. The common battle of this stage is control vs. freedom; the preteen wants to achieve freedom from all perceived restraints, but parents seek to control their child’s behavior. The middle ground to rest upon is a relationship where parents set clear expectations and boundaries. Preteens feel their need for autonomy is respected, but parents still hold the power to make rules and keep the child safe. Too much control will cause the child to feel like their parent holds all the power, and thus creates the dreaded power struggle. The flip side of being too relaxed in boundaries can decrease the preteen’s sense of safety, support, and understanding of expectations in the home. If a parent tries to be more of a friend than a parental figure, how can we expect the child to listen to anything they have to say? The key to limiting relationship issues with a preteen is to build a healthy balance of limits and freedom. 

Step Back to Watch

One of the hardest tasks of parenting is loosening the reins to watch your child grow. This is necessary, but of course it is also frightening! You will see a preteen pull away from family members, change their friends constantly, and ignore responsibilities that used to matter to them- but this is totally normal in the grand scheme of development. Identifying outside the home is a positive because that means the child is increasing their self-confidence and becoming more independent. Parents, please encourage this independence to show your preteen that you are happy they can create social connections and develop new interests. Emphasize that you are always there for them and that you still value times of connection and love, but that it is important for a preteen to grow outside of what they have always known. Another hugely important lesson is that failure is not unacceptable, it’s inevitable; so a parent must prepare to see their child fail on their own. Parents should try to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on achieving perfect grades, high accolades in sports, etc. unless the child asks for this additional support. Strive for greatness, not perfection, and teach that there is more to life than being the best. 

Respect is the Bottom Line

In every stage of parenting from a positive parenting lens, respect is communicated and shown at all times. Especially in the preteen stage, the child requires unconditional respect because they generally feel misunderstood by adults. When handling tasks in the home, it is important to be calm and reasonable in your requests: for example, asking a child to clean their room after first insulting how messy it looks will foster a negative dynamic with the child. I like to call upon a parenting Golden Rule: Reflect before reacting, then respond with respect. If you model to your child that yelling, name-calling, and poor listening is acceptable when you do it, then how can you expect the child to behave any differently? Show preteens respect by listening without judgment when they tell you about their day, or remaining calm and supportive when learning about a bad grade. When a child feels that their parents respect their changing identity and will still be there for them no matter what, then the relationship can hopefully remain strong.

It’s Never Personal

My final wisdom to impart on all parents of preteen children: please try to remember that the way your children treat you is not personal. Due to changing bodies and brains and responsibilities in the world, preteens experience intense challenges! So if heightened emotional expressions and increased incidents of crying, stomping, or eye-rolling start to pop up it is likely a reaction to what they are experiencing OUTSIDE the home. While that might seem confusing, it is helpful to remember that parents are easy targets because a child consciously/subconsciously knows as an eternal truth that their parent will never abandon them. Thus, they feel comfortable pushing boundaries and buttons to the extreme because they can act out these feelings without suffering a consequence of social rejection, school punishment, or public shame. It is necessary to expect resistance from a preteen and accept the forthcoming challenges as they come, like riding a wave. In addition, please allow yourself to grieve their childhood while also holding space for pride that they are growing closer to adulthood. Parenting is a wonderful, scary, messy, often thankless, but always rewarding job that never ends. Be kind to yourself, be kind to your preteen, and be okay with not having it all figured out because they will learn from your vulnerability and resilience.

I learned a lot of helpful tips and encourage following up by reading these articles!

Being Present With Your Adolescent Child

Among parents and caregivers, numerous factors can pose barriers to making time to have meaningful conversations with our children during their rocky teenage years. Parents may need to work long hours or tackle everyday chores, consuming so much time and focus that it leaves little time to be fully present with their children. After a long workday and looking forward to much needed downtime, it can become easy to focus on ourselves or our partners, resorting to “out of sight, out of mind” habits when teenagers disappear in their room for hours at a time. Adolescents naturally become more independent so understandably they can be emotionally distanced or disengaged. As I use the term “children” here, these tips can be applied to our children at any age; it is fundamentally about providing moments of positive connection.

Provide a safe space for child or teen to be heard

One of the most fundamental needs of children is feeling safe in a nurturing environment that fosters warmth, trust and healthy boundaries lasting through adolescence and young adulthood. When children experience trauma at home in an unsafe environment, especially repeated trauma exposure, this can severely impair their ability to form positive relationships in throughout the lifespan. Conversely, establishing a consistent pattern of being available and emotionally bonding with your children forms a blueprint for healthy relationships in their developing brains, providing them vital skills in forming healthy relationships for the rest of their lives.

Moments of calm connection strengthen the relationship with your child

It is important to place emphasis on the word “calm” as talking to them from a place of anger or criticism can easily bring up defensiveness and does little to foster positive connection. Of course, there are moments where we may become angry or critical with our kids, such as becoming exasperated when they fail a test since they did not study or coming home past hours past their curfew.

Positive communication teaches healthy relationships

It has been well established that children learn behaviors from social modeling and observation. As parents, we can be mindful of how we communicate with our partners and children, setting the stage for less challenging conversations with our teens. It is important to acknowledge that that there will be communication exchanges that go awry, mistakes will happen. When reflecting on these not-so-great moments, we can practice self-compassion and think how we could have handled the situation differently.

Dining together is a big deal

It can be hard to find appropriate settings to have quality conversation time with our kids. Research has shown that teens who dine more regularly with their families (seven days a week versus twice a week or less) reported less drug and alcohol use, as well as less depressive symptoms. Dining in or out together can provide valuable moments of connection that will help wire their brains toward navigating current and future relationships.

With these simple guidelines, parents can be more intentional about the quality and frequency of interactions with their children. No one approach will work with every teen and challenges vary. Many teenagers have their schedules packed, not only with school, but social and extracurricular activities that leave them away from home for most of the day. Building fond memories even in the small moments of the day can do wonders for their well-being. After all, kids grow up so fast!


Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, P. H. D. T. P. (2012). The whole-brain child. Random House.

Four Tips for Making the Most Out of Breaks in Therapy

journaling during a break in therapy

Many occasions can lead to a break in therapy – anything from a planned vacation or change in schedule to a sudden health emergency or change in circumstance. These breaks can be planned or unplanned, initiated by either the client or by the therapist, and they can be welcome or unwelcome. No matter the circumstances, these breaks can also be opportunities for continued growth and increased self-awareness. If you find yourself facing a current or upcoming break in therapy, here are four tips to make the most of it:

Dedicate the time

Breaks can be opportunities to slow down and focus on yourself and your relationships. They are opportunities to put into practice some of the discoveries made in therapy, and to try turning to other coping strategies and social support outside the therapist’s office. Dedicate the hour or hours you may have otherwise scheduled for therapy to yourself in other ways: take yourself on a walk or schedule coffee with an old friend.

Take note

Breaks can also be opportunities to step back, observe, and assess. It can be helpful to keep a journal during this time, and to bring your observations with you when you return to therapy. Some potential questions to consider journaling about: Did anything come up for you in your time away that you would have otherwise brought to therapy? If so, how did you manage it? What has changed since the start of therapy (or since your last break)? How have you grown? What’s needed moving forward?

Talk about it

Breaks can bring up feelings around loss and separation, both in the therapeutic relationship and in your relationships outside of therapy. In the session before the break, discuss with your therapist any feelings that come up around the upcoming break, and also put together a plan for how best to cope in the time away. Upon your return, you can reflect together on the experience and any insight gained.

Reach out

Reach out for additional support as needed. For longer and unexpected breaks, consider scheduling short-term support with another therapist or reaching out to a warm line. You don’t need to wait for a crisis to reach out for help. If you do find yourself stuck or struggling, don’t hesitate to call a crisis help line like 988.

YWCA’s Non-Crisis Warm Line: 512-548-9922

Integral Care’s 24/7 Crisis Help Line: 512-472-4357

or call Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988

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