This prolonged sheltering-at-home period can be a challenging time for kids and for parents. Is there a silver-lining when tensions rise?
This is a strange time in the best of circumstances. Yet on top of dealing with the pandemic, our middle-schoolers may be dealing with surges of hormones and emotions, having major growth spurts, learning to be comfortable and coordinated in their bodies again as height and weight changes and they may start to strive for more independence as authority and opinions are starting to be questioned.
School may be online for a time, and the buzz of social gatherings is dampened, but life marches on. All of these life changes may cause our children to find it increasingly challenging to figure out where they fit in socially and emotionally, and can cause new challenges and tensions in the home. Togetherness—can feel constraining to some!
DURING THIS PERIOD OF MANDATED TOGETHERNESS, you can be a beacon of hope, a solid place to land in the midst of this maelstrom.
If you could use a few ideas, try these 5 tips to restore balance and improve your relationship with your middle-schooler during this opportune period.
1: Remain calm in the midst of your child’s ‘storms.’
At this stage in our middle-schooler’s developmental life, their days can go from ‘sunny skies’ to ‘signs of an inevitable storm ahead’ in the blink of an eye. As a parent it is important to remember that in the middle of your child’s ‘storm,’ nothing will be resolved if neither are in the frame of mind to respond rationally. Acknowledge that your child’s feelings are valid and remain calm, take a break and give them some space. Let them know that it’s okay for them to express their feelings but also important to take a break to learn to control them. The fact that you remained calm, leaves opportunity for a tension free conversation, when they are ready.
2: Pick your battles.
After a long day of school I find that when my son comes home, he really needs some down-time to defragment the day. It can be a challenge for parents to not make the first sentence once through the door about homework or chores. Pick your battles because an ‘I just got home from a stressful day at school’ moment can rapidly turn into a stressful afternoon at home. I encourage you to give your middle-schooler time to defragment after school. They know very well what is required of them as they are reminded all day and every day at school. Try giving them the benefit of the doubt before you choose to ‘go into battle.’ They will appreciate the space and learn that home is a place of peace in which they can grow and rise to the challenge.
Middle-schoolers want to be listened to without our always trying to fix things and telling them where they have messed up or giving our opinion. It is important that your child can express themselves and knows that they are ‘safe’ talking to you and can talk freely. Listen to what they have to say without gathering responding thoughts to immediately throw back at them once they are done. Through listening without interrupting you are giving your child opportunity to begin critically thinking things through for themselves.
4: Be quick to admit you're human, too.
We all get tired, we all get cranky and sometimes we can hurt people through our words or actions. As a parent it is important to take responibility for our actions and quickly apologize. If you have had an argument that started because you had a long day, you may be tired and the pile of dishes in the sink sent you over the edge and made you cranky at your child because they left their chores undone. Take a moment, breathe and then quickly go and apologize. Take ownership for your feelings. Apologizing quickly and not waiting for the next day, diffuses many potential arguments and tension in relationships. It is important to ‘let it go,’ not ‘let it grow’ into something it doesn’t need to be. In turn your middle-schooler will see an example of love through you and the importance of grace and forgiveness.
5: Take a genuine interest in what interests them.
Am I interested in Minecraft? No. Am I enthralled by trading a hat for some gold rims in Rocket League? Also no, but when my son comes and sits next to me on the couch, I try to take a genuine interest in what interest him. It always amazes me when we have these moments, how much my son has to say. In turn, I get to know more about him, who he is playing with online, why he likes this game, what he likes about it and we connect.
These are absolutely some of my favorite moments, I learn something new and he learns that I care about everything he does. Now he comes and tells me about something that has happened in the game without me initiating it, and I love that, it keeps our lines of communication open and he feels like he has something in common with his mom.
By taking this rare opportunity to improve your relationship with your middle-schooler, you are learning to be a parent that is calm, encourages peace in the home, listens, is quick to apologize and takes a genuine interest in what your child is interested in. You are also helping to inspire all of these qualities in your child, along with confidence to manage the challenges of middle-school in the semester ahead! — R.B.