Getting to know each other is not something that many mothers and preteen daughters spend time doing.
But clinical psychologist Lynda Madison learned that many really would like to do just that.
"A lot of time, it's the girls who present with depression or emotional issues," said Madison, director of Family Support and Psychological Services at Children's Hospital in Omaha, Neb.
In many of those cases, she said, "I'm struck by the fact that when you talk to daughters alone, they say they very much want that relationship with their parents. And when you talk to the parents alone, they very much want that relationship with their children.
"Somewhere that communication breaks down."
That's why she wrote "Keep Talking: A Mother-Daughter Guide to the Pre-Teen Years" (Andrews McMeel; $19.95).
It's especially important for mothers and daughters to establish a strong bond because young girls look to their mothers to learn how to be a woman - a complicated task.
A subtle uneasiness between a mother and daughter may begin innocently enough. There's a "natural pulling back," Madison said, as a preadolescent establishes an identity separate from her family.
If her mother approaches for a friendly chat - "So, hon, how is your day going?" - a girl might roll her eyes or retreat to her bedroom to telephone a pal.
"Don't assume," Madison advised mothers, "that your daughter doesn't need you or want to have interchanges with you."
It's also easy for a daughter to interpret her mother's caring concern - "Who's that friend you've been spending so much time on the phone with?" - as an intrusion into her privacy or an attempt at restriction.
During those 11- and 12-year-old's awkward moments, "It's a real mistake to back off. That's when the kids seem to need parents the most."
The main stumbling block to communication seems to be the opening of dialogue. Mothers and daughters want to talk but simply don't know how to begin.
Madison has some interesting hints to get a conversation rolling:
Try talking in a car. "Then both mother and daughter are facing the same direction. You aren't facing one another, so it's easier to talk."
Or at bedtime. "Sometimes kids don't want to go to sleep anyway, so it's a good chance to talk about things."
Or during "an official date." "It can be a dinner or a lunch out. It doesn't have to be for the purpose of talking," but that's the direction it often ends up going.
Once mother and daughter are more comfortable interacting, Madison offers exercises. For instance, focusing on peer pressure, each should recall for the other a time when they felt uncomfortable. Daughters often are surprised to learn, Madison said, that mothers still deal with the issue.
"Say, when the daughter goes over to spend the night at a girlfriend's house, and those parents say the girls can watch an R-rated movie," Madison said. A girl's mother "may have to say, ** 'We don't watch movies like that.' Maybe the girlfriend's mother would roll her eyes. That's an example of peer pressure that mothers face."
Discoveries like that help establish a mutual understanding that proves invaluable during turbulent teen-age years.
"This is such a prime opportunity to start talking and develop the skills that you'll both need to be able to approach the other when things don't feel right," Madison said.
"It's really important for mothers to establish very explicitly that 'I care about you; I'm going to be here for you; I want to talk to you' before the child gets into that age period."
Pub Date: 4/19/98