How to Know When to Give Your Child Space

Even if you and your teen get along, there will be times when a little space can benefit the relationship. Do you know how to set proper boundaries?

For the first year of your child's life, he or she is with you constantly, being carried, fed, rocked, cradled, changed and soothed by you. So it can feel a little unsettling when, a year or two later, you have to start allowing your child a bit of freedom and independence. Ultimately, relinquishing some control is beneficial to your child's development. To understand when it's best to give your little one space, keep the following ideas in mind:

1. Allow your child time to deal with emotions before asking him or her to discuss them. Whenever you sense something is wrong with your child, you probably want to talk about it. But just because you're ready for some dialogue, that doesn't mean your kid is. If something's amiss, give your child a little bit of time to process his or her emotions before you swoop in with conversation. Kids often need to work things out in their own minds -- whether thinking it through or writing about it in a journal -- before going to a parent or other adult for help.


2. Provide space for your child to develop decision-making skills and resourcefulness. Let your child know you respect his or her choices by giving him or her autonomy to make smaller, less consequential decisions. For instance, allow your youngster to choose his or her own outfit for the day -- without intervening [source: Thompson]. You can guide your child to smart choices, but don't make every single decision for him or her.

3. Don't give your child carte blanche. While you don't want to micromanage your little one, you also don't want to allow him or her to engage in activities that are physically or emotionally harmful. Remember that you're still the parent, and the basic rules you've set for your child are always in place.

4. How you give your child space now can affect how he or she will deal with stress down the road. An adult who goes for a run when angry or takes a hot bath when upset is probably a person whose parents taught him or her how to deal with negative emotions in a positive, appropriate way [source: Kurcinka]. To pass this skill on to your child, focus on showing him or her how to remain calm during a stressful situation. This method tends to encourage more effective coping skills than forced timeouts.

As your child grows older, he or she will need additional space. Keep reading to find out more.


Tween Space

Forget the post-college years as a time when people seek to find themselves. Tweenhood, when a child is between the ages of 8 and 12, is when real self-discovery begins. Tweens are set on exploring who they are and who they'll grow up to be. And as youngsters seek greater independence, they naturally desire to spend more time away from mom and dad. Here's where it can get a little scary: Space no longer just implies alone time for your child in his or her room; it may mean letting him or her do things outside your supervision.

Here are some pointers parents can use in learning to balance freedom and boundaries for tweens:


1. Understand that it's natural for your child to want to start differentiating him or herself from you. This may mean your tween finds you embarrassing to be around in public. It may feel hurtful, but it's completely normal.

2. Find casual ways to communicate with your tween. You may find that your child isn't as eager to have conversations with you as he or she once was. However, you don't want to give your kid so much space that you're no longer in the loop. To keep communications open, try not to make talking a big deal. Bring discussion topics up casually while shopping or playing video games with your child.

3. Put your child through test runs. Before you start letting your tween out of the house with his or her friends, start testing whether he or she is ready to be out in the world without you. One way to do this is to wait in the parking lot while your child is allowed to go purchase some items at the grocery store [source: Estes].

4. Put safety first. Just because your tween is ready to burst into the world headfirst doesn't mean he or she is an adult. Tweens are still children, and they're still at risk out in the world. Make sure you always know where your child is and who he or she is with. Also be certain your tween is aware of basic safety rules, like not talking to strangers and knowing who to contact for help during an emergency.


Space for Teens

In a climactic scene in the Adam Sandler movie "Spanglish," the teenage protagonist snaps at her mother: "I need some space!" Predictably, the mother doesn't respond well to her daughter's declaration. Many parents face a similar pivotal moment in their relationship with their teenager, realizing that the space their child so desperately wants will soon be permanent. Yet, as hard as it is to begin severing that bond, it's necessary for the teen to complete his or her transformation into an adult.

These tips may help you better navigate the years of your child's burgeoning independence:


1. Don't take it personally. Teenagers often reject activities and interests they once shared with their parents and siblings. This is all part of the process a teen undergoes to distance him or herself from childhood.

2. Address your teen differently than you did when he or she was younger. Your child may always be that sweet little baby boy or girl to you, but teenagers expect not to be treated as children. If you still want to maintain a connection with your teen while allowing him or her more space, acknowledge that he or she is becoming an adult. This will make your child more likely to want to maintain a positive relationship with you.

3. Be nonintrusive, but don't allow total privacy. Your teen will probably want unlimited space, but you should always be aware of what's going on in his or her life. Know who your child's friends are, what's going on at school and what he or she spends time on. And while you should respect your teen's private space, his or her room should never be off limits to you.

4. Don't check out just yet. As much as he or she may hate it, your teen is still a minor. It's important to still parent your teenager. You may have loosened some of the rules to accommodate his or her newfound independence, but don't do away with all of them. Teens still need structure and accountability.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Estes, Kim. "Tweens and Independence: Keeping Them Safe." (Dec. 21, 2011)
  • "Teen Space, Teen Privacy?" (Dec. 21, 2011)
  • Fleck, Kara. "Straightening Out a Bumpy Day." May 9, 2011. (Dec. 21, 2011)
  • Healy, Maureen. "Kids Feeling Blue: 5 Ways to Get Them Talking." Psychology Today. Oct. 5, 2011. (Dec. 21, 2011)
  • Kurcinka, Mary Sheedy. "Kids, Parents and Power Struggles: Winning for a Lifetime." William Morrow Paperbacks. Feb. 20, 2001.
  • Langlois, Christine. "When Your Teen Pulls Away." Canadian Living. (Dec. 21, 2011)
  • O'Shaughnessy, Lynn. "How to Keep in Touch With College Students." U.S. News & World Report. Sept. 21, 2010. (Dec. 21, 2011)
  • St. John's University. "Tips for Dealing with your homesick child." October 2007. (Dec. 21, 2011)
  • Thompson, Chris. "5 Tips for Successful Parenting." March 22, 2011. (Dec. 21, 2011)