- Combination locks. Many a preteen is terrified that they won't be able to get their locker open. As a result, they will be stuck with no place to put their books, or they will not be able to retrieve needed materials for the next class or at the end of the day. What you can do: First, understand that this fear isn't completely unfounded, as students have limited time between classes. Try buying your preteen a combination lock over the summer to practice on, or see if the school will allow your child to come try the lockers out before the start of the school year.
- Being late for class. Yes, preteens have loads of energy, but even they find it challenging to move from class to class on time. The consequence for lateness can be detention. No kid wants to get in trouble because they weren't fast enough! What you can do: Reassure your child that they are not alone. Brainstorm ways to streamline the process. What will they do if they are not sure where a particular class is located? Who can they ask for directions (for example, the teacher of a previous class, or an advisor)? Is your child good at keeping their books and papers organized? If not, help them to organize their binders and books so they don't waste precious minutes between classes. And remind your child that they will have to save socializing for lunchtime or after school.
- Not having friends. Often children worry at the start of middle school about making friends. Middle school can be an especially difficult time for girls, given the rotating nature of girls' friendships, the emergence of queen bees, and the shifting social order. What you can do: Try to focus on this time of new beginnings. You might ask, "Do you know anyone from your old school who is going to be there?" If your child scoffs at your attempts to identify potentially friendly faces in the crowd, try to identify their fears and put them in perspective. You might say, "You had friends at your old school, what do you imagine might happen that you wouldn't you be able to make friends at the new one?" or "Are you worried that the kids from your elementary school won't want to be friends anymore?" Don't feel like you have to supply a steady stream of solutions. Sometimes it helps kids just to voice their fears to a sympathetic listener.
- Being too different. Nothing is worse for middle schoolers than standing out in a way they haven't chosen, which means anything at the far end of the "normal" curve. For a girl, it could mean being the tallest in the class or the most developed; for a boy, it could mean being the shortest or the clumsiest. At some schools, fashion is the arbiter of all things cool, and middle schoolers may live in dread of showing up with the wrong backpack, brand of jeans, or style of shoes.
What you can do: First, understand that the tween years are a stage that marks the beginning of their search for an identity. Whatever it is about your preteen's personality or appearance that concerns them, don't say, "That's silly," or "It doesn't matter." Minimizing their feelings (even with the best of intentions) will only make your child feel more alone. Preteens' self-esteem drops during this time, due to a combination of hormonal activity (remember too that puberty is setting in) and brain development. Emphasize the positive as one way of boosting an insecure preteen's confidence. If, for example, a boy is small in stature but fast on the playing field, his parents could coach him to view his size as an asset rather than a liability.
- Tough classes. Some kids worry that they won't be able to keep up academically. A child who is nervous about the increased workload may worry that there will be too much reading, or that he or she got good grades in elementary school not because they were smart, but because the teachers liked them.
What you can do: There's certainly nothing wrong with acknowledging that the work will be harder (it will be!), but assure your child that it won't be more than they can handle. Remind your preteen that while being a good student is important, they have other strengths as well — perhaps they love to draw, or play soccer — so that their entire sense of self isn't wrapped up in grades. Encourage them to let a teacher — and you — know if they think they need extra help or if they are falling behind. That way you can take steps to address problems early on, perhaps by having your preteen meet with a teacher after school, or working with a tutor.
No matter how confident your child is at the prospect of starting middle school, chances are there's something about it that has them scared silly. What concerns kids most—and how can parents help them work through their fears? An informal survey of parents, students, and experts who work with adolescents turned up the following:
The benefits of mindfulness are not just anecdotal: A growing body of scientific research shows its positive effects on mental health and well-being. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve attention and reduce stress as well as increase one's ability to regulate emotions and feel compassion and empathy. Mindfulness is also widely considered an effective psychotherapy treatment for adults, children, and adolescents with aggression, ADHD, or other mental health issues such as anxiety. To learn more about the benefits of mindfulness, please check out this thorough article about mindfulness with children across the all the developmental phases.
There is remarkable evidence that shows that when you do things like mindfulness and relaxation training and yoga, that you are setting your body up to not express certain genes that could cause a lot of illness and disease in people. And the idea of kids learning this is quite beneficial, especially when we add in the different environment that kids these days are growing up in with technology. While we love our phones and some of us love them more than others, we really are creating an entirely different experience for kids these days. And the idea of having this mindfulness to rely on, to clear your mind, to enter into a thoughtless state and to really align your mind and body in a very positive way is very good preventive medicine.
I find in my work with families that parents are just as happy to be doing it as the kids are. And I essentially think all kids need to learn how to do calm breathing and one nostril breathing, which is where you close one nostril and you close your mouth and breathe in very slowly in and out through the other nostril. Usually you breathe in for seven and out for nine. And you do it for several minutes until you get really relaxed.
But, there are all of these apps now where parents can help their children learn how to relax. For example, C-A-L-M, is an app, which has an amazing bedtime stories as part of the app. Part of the app is free and part of it you have to pay for and the bedtime stories unfortunately is something you have to pay for. But, I’ve had children who’ve had a lot of trouble relaxing before bed and they listen to these stories. There’s one where the man’s voice is very soothing and you almost want to fall asleep the second he starts talking. And of course, that’s one way to use it. Another way is not at bedtime, but for them to really learn how to relax and how to decompress. And what I suggest is looking at the different apps to see if any resonate for you, your child or teen, and your family. InsightTimer is a good one. Buddhify is another one. Headspace is another good app. The most important part is to start somewhere and make it a habit.
Planning and conversation will ease your tween's anxiety about meeting the new, complex demands of middle school.
Ah, middle school. Though your child may barely be entering puberty and may still be a pre-teen, the transition to middle school is a big step on the road to maturity. A big, scary step. Regardless of what specific grade marks the beginning of junior high or middle school in your community, your child will be both excited and afraid. Researchers have found that students anticipating the move to middle school worry about three aspects of the change: logistical, social, and academic. Your child with learning or attention difficulties shares the same worries as their peers, and may be afraid the change will be even harder for them.
While you won’t be able to calm your child’s fears completely, with some advance planning and open discussions you can substantially ease their mind. The first step is understanding what may worry your child.
When researchers asked kids what aspect of moving to middle school most concerned them, the top answers related to how things at the new school worked (Akos, 2002). How would they find the right classroom? What happened if they were tardy? Where was the cafeteria? What about the bathrooms?
Middle school is a much more complex environment than grade school. The campus is larger, there are more students, and instead of one teacher and one classroom, your child will have a separate instructor and classroom, for each subject or block of subjects (e.g., language arts/social studies or math/science). It’s no wonder kids worry about finding their way in this new world.
For your student with learning or attention problems, understanding the rules and procedures of the new school may be even more important. The challenge of navigating multiple transitions between classes and organizing books and materials for every subject may be all she can handle in the first few weeks.
Here are some strategies for helping your child make a smoother transition to middle school:
Another area of worry for students moving to middle school is the social scene. Will I see anyone I know? Will it be hard to make friends? Will I have to eat lunch alone? Are the older kids bullies?
Your child is moving from the top of the elementary school heap to the bottom rung of the middle school social ladder. They may have heard that the older students tease or bully the younger ones. They know for sure that they and their best friends are unlikely to be in every single class together, and, even worse, there may be classes where they don’t know anyone at all on the first day. And if your child with learning or attention problems struggles to make friends anyway, then this all adds up to a potential social nightmare.
Remember that, in addition to changing schools, your child is entering adolescence, a stage when kids start to rely much more on peers and pull away from parents. This is a time when being part of a group is very important and being perceived as different can be devastating. It’s not surprising that finding friends in the new school is a top priority.
The good news is that the more varied social environment also offers many opportunities to meet people. Being in multiple classes each day means your student is surrounded by more potential friends. The better news is that, once students are settled into middle school, they report that friendships and the social scene are among the best things about school (Akos, 2002: Forgan, 2000).
Some things that you can do to ease the social transition:
Though most students worry more about the logistical and social aspects of middle school before they get there, once settled in, academic concerns rise to the surface. Will the classes be too difficult? Will there be too much homework? Are the teachers hard graders?
It’s quite typical for students’ academic performance to drop upon entering middle school. Along with everything else that’s going on – roller coaster emotions, physical changes, and social upheaval – your child is also coping with harder classes, more homework, and a whole new set of academic expectations. Middle school teachers don’t form the close bonds with students that your child enjoyed in grade school. There is less small group and personalized instruction. Teachers expect students to take charge of assignments and projects with less day-to-day guidance.
For a student with learning or attention difficulties, these changes can come as quite a shock. Teachers may vary in their willingness to understand and accommodate your child’s learning needs. Organization and time management demands rise to a new level. Though it can seem overwhelming, keep reminding your child that they can manage these changes successfully, though it will take time and practice.
Some tips to help ease their academic concerns:
The best way to help your child through this transition is to keep a positive attitude about middle school. You may remember how clueless, awkward, and self-conscious you felt at that age. Empathize with your child and normalize their experience. Reassure them that they will become more comfortable and confident with time. Remind your child that the school and the teachers want them to be successful and that they have what it takes to make it all work.
Most students make the adjustment to the routines and demands of middle school within a couple months. If your child is still struggling as fall gives way to winter, then a meeting with their counselor may be in order. Together, you, your student and the counselor can pinpoint specific trouble spots and brainstorm ways to get things on track.
Try to give your tween plenty of information about how things will work in middle school, but be careful not to overload them. Be proactive in sharing information with them while also encouraging them to ask questions. The more they know up front, the more comfortable they will be on the first day, and beyond.
The weather is warming up, warmer days are here, flowers are starting to bloom. You know what this means? Spring has sprung!
Here are 50 ways to celebrate the spring season today!
The Great Outdoors
When one child in a family has difficulties that consume a lot of the family's attention, restrict family activities, or generate great concern, other children in the family may not get the attention that they deserve. Siblings in families with special needs may feel a myriad of emotions such as sadness, disappointment, anger, or stress. Some siblings take care of themselves so that they are less of a burden to their family.
Here are some articles on ways to help support a sibling in a special needs family.
1. 5 Ways to Support Siblings in Special Needs Families
2. 12 Ways to Support Siblings of Children with Disabilities
3. 10 Great Books if You Have Sibling with Special Needs
4. Supporting the Siblings of Special Needs Kids
So many of us ponder how we can be closer with those very important people in our lives; our VIP's. This might be a sibling, parent, boss, friend, spouse, or our own children.
Here are some great TED talks on different ways to build meaningful connections with your VIP's. The TED talks are about 15-20 minutes each so feel free to enjoy them all at once or sneak them in over a day or two. Either way, they will help you to bridge some of those gaps in your VIP relationships and feel more connected.
We have all see and heard of the helicopter parent. The parent who hovers and makes most all decisions for their child. This article sheds light on why helicopter parenting is detrimental to your child and what you can actually do to foster independence and responsibility.
We all know that getting a good night's sleep is very important. Sleep helps to us to repair muscles, improve concentration, maintain health, maximize athletic performance, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, improve immunity, and consolidate learning, to name a few.
Here are some articles that highlight behavioral strategies for getting a good night's sleep throughout the life span.
How To Create The Perfect Sleep Environment
for Your Child
The Best Discipline Strategies for Bedtime Behavioral Problems
Sleep Hygiene For Teens
14 Strategies for Sleeping Better
Sleep Tips for Older Adults
The holiday season brings varied and complex emotions: joy and nostalgia, love and loneliness. New research helps to explain how these feelings affect us- with some practical implications for making the season brighter and more meaningful.
Some people go home for the holidays hoping just to survive, burying their attention in their phones or football to avoid conflict with relatives. Yet research now suggests that is the incorrect idea. Family rituals, of any form, can save a holiday, making it well worth the effort of getting everyone together in the same room.
Some research has shown that people who practiced collective rituals compared with people who did not perform them, felt closer to their families, which made the holidays more interesting and in turn, made the holidays more enjoyable. Most surprisingly, the types of rituals that people described in the research, such as family dinners with special foods, religious ceremonies, and watching the ball drop in Times Square, did not have a direct bearing on enjoyment. But the number of rituals did! Apparently, having family rituals makes the holidays better and the more, the merrier.
During the holiday season, it is natural to feel a longing for times gone by, such as a childhood spent singing carols or meals spent with now departed loved ones. Recently, scientists have explored the bittersweet feeling of nostalgia and found that it serves a positive function by improving our mood and possibly our mental health. The researchers found that nostalgia boosted self-continuity by increasing a sense of social connection. Sentimental recollections, looking at photographs, cooking certain meals, sharing stories or playing music, often include loved ones, which can remind us of a social web that extends across people and across time.
If you are feeling a bit discombobulated over the holidays, pull out a photo album and spend some time revisiting your past and take the time to engage with family and friends over your favorite and treasured holiday rituals.
Can you remember who your best friend was in seventh grade? If you are having difficulty, it could be because relationships at that age are often short-lived. Half of them do not last a year. The friendships that do last can be predicted based on demographic and behavioral similarities.
There is a lot of change during middle school, and that change makes it hard to maintain friendships. As kids move from one academic track to another, join or leave sports teams, or take up new extracurricular hobbies, the opportunities to interact with friends wax and wane. Middle school is also a time when growing personal autonomy first allows children the chance to pick their friends and invest—or not—in those relationships.
A study conducted at Florida Atlantic University tracked 573 seventh-grade dyadic friendships until they ended or until 12th grade. Popularity, aggression and academic success emerged as important behavioral traits of friendships. The more similar two friends were in these traits, the longer a relationship lasted.
This quick turnover in middle school friendships is nothing to be worried about unless a child has trouble making friends. Adults who want to help those children might emphasize that finding peers who are similar in personality and academic interests are central to creating lasting relationships.
Miranda J. Gabriel, Psy.D.
A licensed clinical psychologist providing psychotherapy to children, teens, and adults in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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