To adults, the middle school years seem like they should be completely carefree for children whose focus is on school, friends and activities of their choosing – and not necessarily in that order.
But middle school can be a time of confusion. Kids at that age are going through a whole host of changes – physical, intellectual, social and emotional – at breakneck speed, and they may not feel equipped to deal with them all.
Whether trying out for a sports team, taking a major test or simply trying to fit in, middle schoolers can experience stress to varying degrees. Your attitude and approach can ease their journey and provide some valuable life lessons about coping with stress.
What seems like a molehill of a problem to you can be of mountainous proportions to your pre- or early-teen child. Understand that they don’t have a lifetime of experiences to draw on to help them solve their latest social challenge, so be patient and listen without judgment. Sometimes a listening ear is all they need.
You’ve let him know you’re there to listen if needed, but your son isn’t ready to talk. So be patient and ready. Make time for your child each day, simply to check in and let them know you care. Even though your daughter may seem like she’s pulling away from you, knowing you’ve got her back can provide the comfort and security she needs to handle a stressful situation.
Sure, they tell you they don’t want rules and limits. But the reality is that your preteen – consciously or subconsciously – craves boundaries. Living without boundaries is unsettling and scary, and makes a child feel unsafe.
Put it in perspective, and plan ahead.
If your child is stressing about a science test, for example, put it in perspective. What’s the worst thing that could happen? “I could fail the science test.” And then what could you do? “I could study harder next time.” That’s where the plan ahead comes in – if your child seems to be struggling, share tips on time management. Help her feel more equipped to handle the next test. Consistently check in on what’s going on in school so you can help them your child plan ahead rather than cram at the last minute.
Putting more pressure on a child to perform is like sitting on an inflated balloon: it can only take so much before it pops. That doesn’t mean you should lower your expectations. It means you should understand that sometimes children falter, and it’s not our job to beat them down but to help them figure out the best approach to a situation next time.
Encourage your child to eat right, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and take time out for activities they enjoy – all factors that help a person better cope with stress.
Take your own advice.
If you deal with stress in your own life using the tips above, that becomes a powerful model that your children can see and follow.