So much of what I write about has to do with adolescent kids and how parents can take maximum advantage of this precious time.

father-son-talking-123rfAlong the way I’ve come to appreciate the huge advantage parents can gain if they prepare for adolescence before puberty arrives.

A child begins to change dramatically during middle school, and so does the parent-child relationship. If parents wait until then to alter their perspective, improve communication skills and learn how to encourage appropriately, it can be like learning how to swim after you’re already being carried downstream in a rapidly flowing river. You can do it, but it’s so much easier if you prepare in advance.

So if you’re fortunate to have a child who is still only 8 -10 years old and my writing has captured your interest, what can you do during the next few years to prepare? I recommend three things:

1. Improve your communication skills

You can get away with almost any way of communicating during early childhood; but once adolescence arrives, reacting in the typical way not only won’t get you the results you hope for, it will erode the relationship. In my opinion, five skills matter most.

Listening. If learning only one skill is all your busy life permits, this is the one you should focus on. Learn all you can about listening and set a goal of to continuously improve the way you listen for the rest of your life.

Encouraging your child to think – analyzing, evaluating, learning from experience, problem-solving, decision-making, goal-setting, planning, and organizing. Yes, you’re a lot smarter than your child and you can the thinking for them, just as you’ve done during early childhood. But these mental skills take time and quite a lot of repetition to master, and your child will need them to succeed in a career, life and relationships.

Giving effective feedback – both praise and constructive feedback. Your child will need it, but you need to offer it in a specific, positive way, so that it both guides and encourages.

Dialogue. When you have differences of opinion, arguing is the instinctive reaction. The problem is that it resolves nothing and tends to alienate the child. You can learn to share and probe each other’s thinking, instead.

Conflict resolution. When your child wants something that is unacceptable to you, it’s possible to explore other alternatives that satisfy both your needs and those of your child.

These are the skills you’ll need to deal with daily challenges and opportunities and to have the dozen or so “talks” every parent should have with their growing child. Search my blog for articles about these skills. The online self-paced Strong for Parenting program has videos, articles and tip sheets about these skills. Begin experimenting with one skill at a time and learn from your experiences using it with your family.

2. Get smart about the brain development that will happen during adolescence.

It will be invisible, slow, silent and relentless, with enormous consequences. So much depends on the kind of thinking your child exercises during the teen years, and there’s much you can do as a parent to optimize the result. I wrote the book, How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain to help parents learn what’s going on and what they can do.

3. Acknowledge that during adolescence, you’ll be raising an adult, not a child.

Yes, prior to puberty, you are definitely dealing with a child. And after puberty, you won’t be dealing with an adult. Your kid will be a no-longer-a-child-but not-yet-an-adult, what we call an adolescent.

During those six or seven years before he or she leaves home to go to college, start a career, enter military service, or even start their own family, your child hopefully will construct the foundation for the mental skills that will be needed for adult life. And aside from academic learning, teenagers have plenty of social and life skills to learn. if you think of your child as an “apprentice adult,” you’ll deal with them on that level, expect more of them and give them opportunities to learn the skills and wisdom they’ll need. If you realize you’re helping your child become a successful, responsible, happy adult, you can get a lot done. And believe me, for too many teenagers much of this development is haphazard or nonexistent.

So start now. Start improving the communication skills that matter. Help your child practice the mental skills that will give them a superior mind. Start thinking of your tween as an “emerging adult,” so that month by month and year by year you can help them prepare for adult life.

How parents can prepare for adolescence is the subject of Chapter 11 of my new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

Also, you can download 4 FREE guides, including  “The No. 1 Way to Nurture the Bond with Your Teen.”