So, what’re the best ways for parents to deal with the side effects of pre-teen angst? For more than 10 years as an author and educator, I’ve helped kids and their moms navigate these tricky years together. Here, some my favorite ways to add a little relief to your middle-school experience.
1. Treat your kids like cats. You know how the less attention you pay to cats, the more they seem to come around? Recognize that middle schoolers have a developmental need to separate from you at this age. If your child senses that you’re clinging, he will pull away further. The more disinterested you seem, however, the more interested they become in choosing to talk.
2. Master a “Botox Brow.” Research shows that the part of the brain we use to read facial expressions isn’t properly functioning for middle schoolers. As a result, they often mistake a wrinkled brow (whether it be out of curiosity or interest or shock) as anger. When talking to your middle schooler, keep a smooth forehead and facial expression. Moms tell me this is the number-one tip they’ve received from me for keeping the lines of communication open.
3. Ask questions instead of giving advice. Middle schoolers feel judged by their peers many times each day. They sometimes snap when they get home because they can’t handle one more judgment coming their way, and you’re the safest person for them to break down in front of. Resist the urge to offer advice and instead ask questions. For example, rather than saying “You can’t quit the team halfway through the season! You’ll let your teammates down!” try “What would it be like if you stopped playing? How would your teammates react?” Middle schoolers need to learn how to think critically instead of being fed answers.
4. Get a hobby. No kid wants to feel like his mom’s happiness rests on his success or failure. Moms who treat their middle schoolers as personal projects are doomed to be stressed. Instead, give your kid some time to grow and indulge yourself in some much deserved YOU time. Now that your kids are older, take advantage of the fact that you can go out alone and explore activities or friends who interest you and enrich your life. You’ll model healthy self-care while reducing your stress.
5. Be understanding. Sounds like a tall order, I know. Middle schoolers can be baffling, but when moms better understand developmental changes that happen during this age, and believe that they are normal and natural — it makes enjoying the middle-school years easier.
Michelle Icard is the mom of two teens and author of Middle School Makeover: Improving The Way You and Your Child Experience Middle School Years. Learn more about her work to help middle schoolers and their parents at MichelleintheMiddle.com.