Supporting collaboration in middle schoolers: Here's what to know

The ability to collaborate well with others is an important part of life and work.

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By Michelle Balani

The ability to collaborate well with others is an important part of life and work. It contributes to a person’s capacity to respect the perspectives of others, to solve problems creatively, and to resolve conflicts appropriately. Encouraging your child to participate in cooperative activities like sports, clubs, arts, and music can be a good way to begin teaching her about cooperative play. Make sure to find a balance between her activities, school work, and family time, and try not to overload her with too many activities, as this can lead to unnecessary stress.

Have a family game night. While your child’s schedule may be filled with social activities, it’s important to make the time to get together as a family to take part in a fun activity. It can be a board game or a team-building activity like a relay race, tug of war, or volleyball game. Your child can pick the game your family plays, and you can begin the activity by going over the rules. Playing together helps to teach your adolescent about camaraderie, or mutual trust between teammates, and about working collaboratively for a common goal. If you notice your adolescent trying to break the rules or getting upset if she is not winning, remind her about the need for good sportsmanship. After the game is over, take her aside and acknowledge the contributions that she and others made, and talk to her about teamwork and collaboration in all aspects of life. You can also discuss the importance of losing and winning gracefully, and how success is not always defined by victory but simply by a person’s efforts.

Provide examples of good collaborative behavior. A good way to show your middle-schooler the value of collaboration is to talk about great leaders and thinkers and point out examples of how they rallied groups of people to help and empower others. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. gathered thousands of people to march for equal rights, and it was only through collaborative efforts that he was able to fight injustice through peaceful protest. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and nagging question is ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” and this spirit of collaboration and selflessness helped him stand up for others who were in need. On the internet, you will find that almost every day is a celebration of some heritage, group, or cause. These occasions give you the opportunity to introduce discussions about leaders and what they did and said. Try to give your adolescent a sense of the challenging paths most leaders took to get to their positions, and how they collaborated to overcome the obstacles they faced once there. Ask your child what it means to him to hear these examples, as this will help him understand the importance of working together to make a difference.

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 Michele Borba, Author and Educational Psychologist.