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10 Tips for Living in Peace with Your Middle-School Child

American School Counselor AssociationBrought to you by the American School Counselor Association

The explosive preteen

They can be temperamental and unpredictable -- one wrong move could set them off. Living with a preteen can sometimes feel like walking through a minefield. How can you keep the peace and still make sure that homework and chores get done? Here are 10 tips that can help.

  1. Think ahead.

  2. Break down big chores into small parts.

  3. Encourage your middle-schooler to keep a daily list.

  4. Don't hesitate to remind your middle schooler about appointments and due dates.

  5. Be willing to listen, but don't poke or pry.

  6. Be a friend.

  7. Help your child see that all friendships have ups and downs.

  8. When reprimanding, deal only with the precise problem. Don't bring in other issues.

  9. If the issue is minor, keep things light.

  10. Don't use power unless it's urgent.

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. Is your youngster's hairstyle as important as homework? Isn't her 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, twenty-three overdue math assignments, a long-term project that's "suddenly" due in a few days (or hours); such high-stress situations cause the preadolescent to give up rather than get started.

Help your child by showing her how to set smaller goals: Clean off your bed; get five assignments done tonight; assemble the materials for the project. Preadolescents have trouble structuring tasks so that they're more approachable. In an even and offhand way, you can help them with this.

3) Encourage your middle-schooler to keep a daily list.
A weekly list is too ovewhelming. 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 alloted to each task. When he has finished the task, your child can draw a line through it to show accomplishment.

4) Don't hesitate to remind your middle-schooler about appointments and due dates.
Try to think ahead about materials that she'll need for a project (unless you look forward to late-evening visits to K-Mart). This won't last forever. Remember that when she was learning to walk, you held her hands and made the path smooth. Now she's learning to take on a tremendous assortment of life-tasks and changes; 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 him, but don't push him into a defensive position.

If your 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. This is what's going on when we get involved in those "I-hate-her-she's-so-stuck-up-and-how-could-she-do-this-to-me" conversations. As parents, we must help our kids see that one problem doesn't ruin a relationship, but stubbornness might. Middle-school friends have a lot of spats and 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 always better than, "You are so lazy! I told you to take that trash out 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 being punitive: "Either the cat's smarter than I thought, or you left it on the counter. One of you please put it back before it spoils."

10) Don't use power unless it's urgent.
Parents 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.

The tips quoted are from H.E.L.P. How to Enjoy Living with a Preadolescent and MORE H.E.L.P. These pamphlets are authored by Judith Baenen and published by the National Middle School Association.

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