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Helping Your Difficult Child Through the Tough Middle School Years

Moms and dads often become less involved in the lives of their kids as they enter the middle grades. But your child needs as much attention and love from you as she needed when she was younger—and maybe more. A good relationship with parents is the best safeguard the youngster has as she grows and explores. By the time she reaches the teenage years, you and she will have had years of experience with each other. The mother or father of today's little girl is also the parent to tomorrow's teen.

Your relationship with your youngster will almost certainly change after elementary school. In fact, most parents report that their child's behavior changed drastically (for the worse) once he or she entered the 7th grade. But, these changes can be rewarding and welcome if treated appropriately. As your middle school youngster makes mental and emotional leaps, your conversations will grow richer. As his interests develop and deepen, he may begin to teach YOU (e.g., how to hit a baseball, what is happening with the city council or county board, why a new movie is worth watching, etc.).

According to the research, when their difficult children enter middle school, effective mothers and fathers exhibit the following qualities:

1. Middle school kids need strong role models. Try to live the behavior and values that you hope your youngster will develop. Your actions speak louder than words. If you set high standards for yourself and treat others with kindness and respect, your youngster stands a better chance of following your example. As these children explore possibilities of who they may become, they look to their moms and dads, friends, well-known personalities, and others to define who they may become.

2. The middle school years are a time for exploring many areas and doing new things. Your youngster may try new sports and new academic pursuits and read new books. She may experiment with different forms of art, learn about different cultures and careers and take part in community or religious activities. Within your means, you can open doors for your youngster. You can introduce her to new people and to new worlds. In doing so, you may renew in yourself long-ignored interests and talents, which also can set a good example for your youngster. Don't be discouraged when her interests change.

3. Middle school kids need support as they struggle with problems that may seem unimportant to their moms and dads. They need praise when they've done their best. They need encouragement to develop interests and personal characteristics.

4. Middle school kids need moms and dads who consistently provide structure and supervision that is firm and appropriate for age and development. Limits keep them physically and emotionally safe.

5. When your kids behave badly, you may become angry or upset with them. You may also feel miserable because you became angry or upset. But these feelings are different from not loving your kids. Middle school kids need parents who are there for them—adults who connect with them, communicate with them, spend time with them and show a genuine interest in them. This is how they learn to care for and love others. Moms and dads can love their kids but not necessarily love what they do – and kids need to trust that this is true.

6. It is tempting to label all middle school kids as being difficult and rebellious. But these youngsters vary as much as do kids in any other age group. Your youngster needs to be treated with respect, which requires you to recognize and appreciate his differences and to treat him as an individual. Respect also requires you to show compassion by trying to see things from your youngster's point of view and to consider his needs and feelings. By treating your child with respect, you help him to take pleasure in good behavior.

7. We are not born knowing how to act responsibly. A sense of responsibility is formed over time. As kids grow up, they need to learn to take more and more responsibility for such things as: (a) admitting to both the good and bad choices that they make, (b) completing chores that contribute to the family's well being, (c) completing homework assignments without being nagged, (d) finding ways to be useful to others, and (e) taking on community activities.

There are no perfect mothers or fathers. However, a bad decision or an "off" day (or week or month) isn't likely to have any lasting impact on your middle school son or daughter. What's most important in being an effective parent is what you do “over time.”

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents with Difficult Preteens and Teens

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