Your Child Today 11 to 14 years: Getting Close to Teens

How to reach your child when he backs off

Pre-teens and young teenagers are famously prickly about physical affection. But during these years of rapid change, touch is just what your child requires. In his book What Teens Need Most from Their Parents, youth worker Bill Sanders explains: "Though they may seem uncomfortable at first, they need the looks, words or gestures that show you care."

Most boys and girls tolerate and eventually enjoy their parents' hugs, as long as they're brief. Still, be ready to offer a long hug when the situation warrants it. As your child gets older, you'll have to get smarter about making the affection connection work.

Here are five pointers that will help you stay close while adjusting to your child's changing preferences and needs.

1. Find new ways to express love.
Girls are less likely to shy away from cheek kissing and hugging, especially from mothers?but be sensitive to your teen's response. Kissing and hugging at bedtime are still usually acceptable. But start trying other ways to express affection. One mom braids her daughter's hair before special occasions. A dad makes a point of escorting his daughter by the arm whenever possible?to a chair at dinner, to the car or to a restaurant table. She rolls her eyes?and loves it.

2. Find excuses for closeness.
Next time your stand-offish child is doing homework at the kitchen table, scoot your chair next to him and ask to see what he's working on. Your interest and the physical closeness will both convey warmth.

3. Find an opportunity to kiss.
Boys begin to shy away from kissing in elementary school, and by puberty it's usually an ordeal. Most sons will tolerate a mother's kiss on the temple while they're eating breakfast, especially if you say wryly, "Anyone eating at my table owes me a kiss once a day." He'll resign himself to "Mom's rule," and might even be secretly glad.

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May 25

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