Help for Moody Middle-Schoolers

By Mary Ellen Brayton

Question:  My child in middle school is so moody!  What can I do to make life at home more peaceful yet still have them do what they need to do - like school work and help around the house?

Answer.  As you already know, kids in middle school can be temperamental and unpredictable.  You may feel like you are walking through a minefield.  One wrong move could set them off. 

The American School Counselor Association has some advice for how you can keep the peace and still make sure that homework and chores get done.  Here are 10 tips that they offer:  

  1. Think ahead:  One of our best tools as parents is being prepared.  As your son or daughter gets to the middle school years, get ready for at least occasional conflicts.  Think through what's truly important to you and pick your battles.  Is his or her hairstyle as important as homework?  Is curfew more of a concern than crabbiness?  Obviously dawdling is a lot easier to accept than drugs.  As these give and take situations start, know ahead of time what areas you are and aren't willing to negotiate.
  2. Break down big chores into small parts:  Sometimes young people feel overwhelmed by tasks, especially those they've let go for a long time.  A disastrous bedroom, a long-term project that's suddenly due, or 23 math problems they don't understand is a high stress situation and the preadolescent may want to give up rather than get started.
  3. Encourage your middle-schooler to keep a daily list:  A weekly list is too overwhelming.  Each day he can put a few things on the list that need to be done that day.  You might have to assign a specific time allotted to each task.  When the task is done, draw a line through it to show accomplishment.
  4. Don't hesitate to remind your middle-schooler about appointments and due dates:  Try and think ahead about materials that she'll need for a project (unless you look forward to late evening visits to Staples).  This won't last forever.  You held her hand when she learned to walk; she'll still need some hand-holding for about a year or so as she gets started on the road to being a responsible adult.
  5. Be willing to listen, but don't poke or pry:  Kids this age value independence and often seem secretive.  Keeping to themselves is part of the separateness they're trying to create.  Let your child know you'd love to help, but don't push him into a defensive position.  If you child is in the midst of a longtime friendship that is falling apart, the best thing you can do is stand by and be a good listener.  It is devastating when parents see their children hurting, but taking sides or intervening isn't appropriate, nor will it help.  Preadolescents do survive these hurts, especially if they know you're there to listen to their pain.
  6. Be a friend:  Friends are people who accept us as we are.  They listen, they don't needlessly criticize, they back us up when we're right, and pick us up when we're down.  Be a friend to your middle-schooler; some days your kids may feel like you're the only one they have.
  7. Help your child see that all friendships have ups and downs:  Children need to learn that being "best friends" isn't always smooth sailing.  People have differences of opinion and even get angry, but they still care for each other.  As parent's, we must help our kids see that one problem doesn't ruin a relationship, but stubbornness might.  Middle school friends will have falling outs that often mend in a short time.
  8. When reprimanding, deal only with the precise problem.  Don't bring in other issues:  "The trash is still here, and I want it out now", is better than "You are so lazy! I told you to take out the trash two hours ago and it's still here! You'd live in a pigsty, wouldn't you?  Well you aren't the only one in this house you know . . . ".
  9. If the issue is minor, keep things light:  The shoes on the floor, the wet towel on the bed, the milk carton left out - these annoyances are maddening, perhaps, but not earth-shattering.  Call attention to them in a humorous way so that your middle-schooler knows you want action, but that you're not punitive.
  10. Don't use power unless it's urgent:  Parent's have the ultimate power, and kids know it.  We don't have to "prove" it to them at every turn.  Save your strength for those really important issues you've decided are non-negotiable.  Eventually kids are going to possess power of their own, and we want them to be able to use it wisely.

Tips are also quoted from H.E.L.P. How to Enjoy Living with a Preadolescent, and MORE H.E.L.P.

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