How to Make Heart Connections With Our Teens and Tweens

It was the last day of school many years ago. My oldest son had just gotten off the bus. I expected him to run in the house with a big grin on his face welcoming summer break. Instead, he walked slowly, kicking the grass. I could tell there was something wrong. “Why do we have to move?” he asked angrily as tears began streaming down his cheeks. He was ready to bolt, but I held him and said, “It’s okay.” We moved quickly to a comfortable chair and I rocked my then nine-year-old as he cried. “It’s okay. Just let it out,” I crooned as I kissed his head. After a few long moments, he whispered, “Everybody’s asking whose class I’m in next year.” “That hurts, doesn’t it?” I replied. He felt left out and scared of the unknown. His jumbled emotions had gotten the best of him. He needed to sort it out. We snuggled and talked it through – the end of the school year, the move, making friends – the bittersweet nature of life. “I feel better now,” he announced. He was ready to leap out of my lap and begin his summer adventures, but I wanted to give him a dozen more kisses. I settled for one last resistant hug, a smile and a “M-om!” Just as quickly as it had come, the inner storm disappeared…at least for a little while. I stood longingly in the kitchen, thinking back on what had just happened. He came to me. He brought me his fears, showed me his tears…shared his heart. I’m glad I was there.

That’s the way it seems to be with tweens, the children ages 8-12. They are big and brave yet small and tender. They want to do everything themselves, but the second they can’t, their world seems to crumble. They are walking contradictions, trying to figure out life.

How can we help them? How do we let them know that we are a safe place for them to share their hearts…now, in the teen years and throughout their lives?

Parenting is both the most challenging and most rewarding part of my life. There is always more to learn. However, there are a few things to which I’m committed: being present and being honest.

Being Present

Being present is not always easy for me. I always have something going on in my head, and it’s easy for me to live in that world instead of the world around me. If I’m not lost in my own thoughts, I might be talking on the phone or checking e-mail. But my children need me to be present with them. I must consciously take time to connect. Mealtimes are great connecting points. I value being at table together. Not only do we feast on food, but we also feast on each other’s stories. Any follow-up needed is usually at tuck-ins. The security of being curled up under the covers seems to help my kids open up.

I guess it’s about being available. I’m a working mom, but I have some flexibility. There may be seasons when I’m working on a project that I have less time with the kids than at other times, but they are still the priority. I’ve got to stay connected.

Being Honest

When my son came to me with his broken heart, I could have said, “It’s okay. Stop crying. You’ll be all right,” silencing his words and shaming his feelings. This response may have been an indication of my own uncomfortableness with his pain. It’s hard to see my son suffer. I want to fix it, make it better. But I can’t. The best thing I can do is be with him in his pain. I shared my own story with him about making friends. I told him that there are times that I like to keep my heart locked up in a box because it can hurt to love people. We do life together, and then they move to Kansas or even Africa. Sometimes I think that if I didn’t make any more friends that I wouldn’t hurt. But I really do love people, so I take the risk to open up…again.

In order to be that honest with my son, I have to be in touch with what is going on in my own head and heart. That’s Self-Awareness. As I share my story, he knows that he is not alone and that he’s not strange for feeling the way he feels. Every time we share like this, the bridge between our hearts is strengthened. And that’s what life is all about, isn’t it – heart connections?

Tamara Fyke
Tamara Fyke
Tamara Fyke is an educator and social entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. She is the creator, author, and brand manager for Love in a Big World, which equips K-8 educators with a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that is both research-based and practical, and also provides the supporting resources necessary to empower students to be socially competent, emotionally healthy problem-solvers who discover and maintain a sense of purpose and make a positive difference in the world. Tamara is the editor of Building People: Social & Emotional Learning for Kids, Schools & Communities, a book that brings 12 wide-ranging perspectives on SEL to educators, parents, and leaders. Now more than ever, we need to teach our children what LOVE looks like. Find out more at

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