Want to help your sixth-grader with their relationship skills? Here are some tips that experts suggest.
Teach your child about first impressions
Parent Toolkit expert Faye de Muyshondt suggests that you teach them how to maintain eye contact, speak clearly, introduce themselves and smile or convey warmth to make a good first impression. You can help your adolescent practice this by role-playing and taking turns introducing yourselves to each other. Talk to them about the importance of first impressions and help provide them with a mental checklist that your child can use when meeting new people. Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab Maurice Elias recommends that you also ask your child to reflect on the first impressions that they are making on others. For example, you can ask questions like, “How do you see yourself?” “How do you think others to see you?” and “How do you want others to see you?” Keep in mind that you are also modeling for your child when you meet new people and make introductions, and you can use those situations as teachable moments.
Talk to your middle-schooler about responsible online behavior
Most adolescents use electronic devices and social media, and it’s important to teach them how to behave appropriately online. Take this opportunity to discuss how the digital age has improved our lives, and then remind them that a person’s online footprint lives on in the virtual world and that almost nothing can be erased once it’s posted. This is also a good opportunity to discuss online bullying. Talk to your teen about the importance of being kind to others online and resisting going along with the crowd when someone is being made fun of. Monitor their time on social media and make it clear that “friends” in the virtual world are not the same as friends in the interpersonal world, and that your child will need to develop their skills in relating to people in a range of everyday, non-electronic situations.
Discuss peer pressure with your middle-schooler
Regardless of your child’s friends and social status, peer pressure will become an issue at one point or another. Education consultant Jennifer Miller recommends that you discuss peer pressure openly with them, and talk about possible scenarios. You can ask them questions like, “What if the other kids are spending the night at a house while the parents are unaware and out of town?” Ask how your 6th grader feels about the scenario you’ve offered, and discuss the potential consequences of various choices and what your child might say to a friend who is asking them to take part. Talking through these kinds of possibilities prepares them with language to use with their peers so they are ready.
Use your child's interests to help him develop new friendships
Many middle-schoolers have passions and pursuits that are important to them, and it’s helpful to encourage your child to find out what their “thing” is. You can do this by researching topics of interest together or pointing out potential hobbies or future career options. Colorado-based school counselor Sharon F. Sevier suggests that once you identify your middle-schooler’s interests, you may want to have him participate in groups or activities outside school that foster their talents and may help him find new friends. Your child says that these groups enlarge the friendship circle beyond school. Youth groups and programs at religious organizations, scouts, athletics, music, drama, and volunteer work all offer adolescents a chance to grow and blossom and develop new friendships with different people.
To learn more about your child's relationships, check out our sixth-grade relationship skills page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Sharon Sevier, School Counselor, Missouri School Counselor Association.