Big Boys, Big Emotions: 5 Tips for Connecting with Your Tween Boy


The other day I picked my 11-year-old son up from 6th grade, as I do most days. He was moving slow and the look on his face said the day wasn’t spectacular. He plopped down in the seat with a little huff and then sat quietly.

I asked him how the day went, what was good, and what was bad. In no time, he was emotional. His voice was breaking a bit and his eyes fought back tears as he told me the ups and downs of the day. His feelings were hurt and his frustration was high.

To be honest, his day wasn’t bad. He had a few scuffles with friends and a tough assignment in his English class, but really nothing that sounded too crazy. But factor that in with early morning basketball practice and the fact that it had been at least two hours since lunch – and that meant he was “hangry” – and his emotions were riding high.

I’m learning that my big boy sometimes has big emotions. I’m reminded that although he is taller than me (and getting taller every day), he is a kid in a lot of ways and is learning how to deal with life situations – big and small. It’s up to moms and dads to help guide and support these big kids, as they make their way toward adulthood.

Here are a few things I’ve found to help connect with my boy on his journey:

Be there to listen

Sometimes he doesn’t need an answer; he just needs an ear. With so many distractions, his friends aren’t always good listeners and being heard is important at this age.  Sometimes he just needs to get his feelings and thoughts out, with no judgment or comments.

Show interest in his interests

I don’t love video games or talking sports stats, but my son does. I know that if I show interest in the things he likes and appreciates, he feels valued. Take the time to engage with your kids in their hobbies, their interests, and the things that they spend their time doing. Ask questions. Try it out. They will appreciate the time and energy you spend and who knows, you might just find that you both enjoy it!

Laugh with him

Make time to lighten the mood and relax. Watch his favorite funny movie together, laugh at his jokes (even the fart jokes), and always be on the lookout for what makes him smile.  Be sure he sees you laughing, smiling, and having fun too. Humor is good for the soul at any age.

Keep home a safe space

Make sure your home is a place where your kids feel comfortable to be themselves. Let them know that they don’t need to put on any faces at home. When they walk through the door, they are appreciated for who they are. Make downtime part of your schedule.

It’s okay to not be okay…for a bit

When the emotions flow, let them know that it’s part of life and it’s okay. Help them find strategies that will minimize their frustration or help them cope. Give a different perspective and share your life experiences. Kids need to know that life isn’t always going to be roses. Somedays it will be hard, and they need to know you support them and they need to have a plan to help move past disappointments.

Being a “tween” is difficult, especially in this day and age. It’s important to find ways to connect with your tween even as they are starting to separate from you, and grapple with their own identity and independence. These boys, even if they are taller than you, are still kids. They are big boys with big emotions, and it’s our job to support them as they learn to manage these big emotions.