3 Ways to prepare for the stress of middle school

The transition from elementary school to middle school is a period of significant changes. In elementary school, their school schedule is managed for them. Now your child will have to maintain their own schedule, going from class to class and visiting their locker when they can. In addition to these changes, your child’s body is undergoing changes as well. With the onset of puberty, the hormones pumping through your child’s system brings about not only physical changes but emotional changes as well.

Dealing with these sudden surges of strong emotion can be quite challenging. It’s even more challenging because this is a point in your child’s life when they begin to question authority. Failure to learn emotional management strategies can lead your child into trouble. Developing your child’s emotional maturity is the key to a smooth transition to middle school. Here are three skills you can teach your child to help them manage their emotions. These skills will serve them in middle school and beyond.

1. Recognizing Emotions

The ability to name emotions your child is feeling will help them deal with their stress and emotions in a productive way. It is typical for many parents to focus on behavior over emotion; for example, they will react to their child’s slamming the door, or rolling their eyes, instead of what led to that action. A focus on behavior alone teaches your child to continue to redirect their feelings towards certain behaviors. Naming emotions is the first step for your child to recognize the conditions leading to a behavior or misbehavior.

Once your child has identified the emotion, they can better think about and understand the behavior. We all have signs that our body uses to tell us that we have a strong emotion happening. Perhaps our shoulders get tense when we’re angry. Maybe our hands shake when we’re nervous. Learning to recognize these telltale signs of their emotions will teach your child to stay in control of their emotions.  

If your child has difficulty putting names to their emotions, this diagram can help them.  Additionally, modeling this for your child could help them better understand the act of naming emotions. When you feel yourself having strong emotions, don’t shy away from talking about them with your child.  Letting them know you are grieving, or apprehensive, or ecstatic, or stressed shows them that all people go through these emotions, and that is okay.

2. Meditating

Mindfulness meditation is a skill that develops focus and thought management skills. Meditation helps you clear your mind by having you focus on the breath. Meditation will train your child to let go of distracting or stressful thoughts and help them get through some of these tougher moments. Meditation will train your child to recognize when they’re having distracting or stressful thoughts before they interfere with being present in the moment. In doing this, this will also help them maintain the focus needed for middle school.  

There are many apps like Calm and Headspace for guided meditation. These apps have pre-recorded meditation sessions aimed at clearing distracting thoughts and is easy to introduce to your preteen who is probably well-versed in technology.

Meditation is a skill that takes practice; start with a short meditation, and have your child work their way up to longer sessions. This can is also a great activity to do together, as both you and your child will benefit.

3. Reflecting

Once the emotion has passed, it’s important for them to come back to that moment and reflect on their emotional outburst and the emotions or stresses causing it. This means sitting with your child and asking them how they felt when they were overwhelmed with emotion. Punishment for emotional outbursts without reflection teaches your child to suppress their emotions and not address the actual issue. This will only lead to more emotional outbursts.

Sometimes we can know in advance that an unavoidable situation will cause stress. Teaching your child to mentally prepare for these situations is a crucial part of developing their emotional maturity. Asking themselves questions such as “What should I do when I’m angry?” or “What behavior should I avoid?” will help your child to avoid bad behavior well before the moment when a stressful situation arises. Reflection is a skill that will develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

As your children approach middle school or commence to a new grade, the teachers and staff will expect more maturity from your child. With these three skills, a little time, and attention, you can help teach your middle schooler to manage their emotions which is the first step in helping your child manage their behavior.  

At JEI, our intimate class sizes provide a setting to practice these emotional-management skills while getting a valuable supplementary education.  

To get started with JEI, find a center near you!