Last week, a girl approached my 11-year-old son at the swimming pool. "My friend over there likes you," she said to Tommy, as my husband relates the story. "She thinks you're cute. Do you like her?"
My husband isn't sure exactly what Tommy heard -- and I wasn't there to witness this event -- but apparently the gist of his response was to cram another handful of potato chips into his mouth and never answer the question. He wasn't being rude, although we will need to work on some good responses for future situations ("She looks really nice, but I'm not interested in dating yet/my parents won't let me date yet," maybe?). He just isn't at all ready for that stuff, and I'm glad.
Meanwhile, there's another person who didn't handle this moment too well: me.
Put simply, I overreacted.
When Tommy told me about the girl, I went a little too nuts. Along the lines of, "Oh, that's so cute! Oh, that's sweet, she thought you were handsome!" Followed by lots of questions.
By that time, he was turned off, probably embarrassed, and definitely ready to get away from this intense, overbearing Mom person. Oops.
I am learning that tweens, and I'm assuming teens, respond best to small movements. They're like little butterflies that you don't want to scare off if they happen to land near you. Your best move is to let them know you're there, sit quietly, allow them to approach and do lots of listening.
Sam Fabian, a parent educator at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters, confirms this lesson. "A parent's composure and response to the questions are very important in keeping the lines of communication open and honest," Fabian says. "If you tend to overreact to information, they will be less likely to come to you again. For instance, if your child says, 'Amy tried to kiss me today at the bus stop,' and you respond, 'WHAT?! I am going to the bus stop tomorrow, or I'm calling her parents... or did you kiss her back? Why did she think she could kiss you? etc.' This will shut the communication down in a heart beat.
"Instead, say, 'Wow, did that surprise you? How did you feel about it?' Get a sense of where they are with it all and ask them, 'If she does it again, what do you think you will do?' Let them process it out, and they probably will come up with the answer and only a little guidance may be needed."
So what I should have done is played it cool and said to Tommy, "Oh. So how did you feel about that girl saying that?" and see what he told me, and then go from there with any words of wisdom.
It's not the first time I've been too in-his-face. As he's gotten older and we are spending more time apart, sometimes I'll find myself jumping on him the second he walks through the door, trying to find out exactly who-what-where-when-why his day has been. Increasingly, that is eliciting only mumbles and grunts. But when I'm least expecting it, he'll open up. Unfortunately it's usually at night when all I want to do is go to sleep, but of course I'll always hang out for as long as he wants.
He'll still talk my ear off, as he did when he was a toddler, and I'm lucky for that. I just have to be patient.
And then, I figure, I'll talk my husband's ear off.