Cared For and Supported

A couple of weeks ago I returned from a seminar and shared with my class at Concordia, Tacoma, the slides I’d used with students in Loveland, Colorado. When the image of Charlie Brown and Snoopy came up, the reaction was startling:
“Yes! YES!!”
“I wish my parents knew this!”
“Could you please tell this to my mom?”
“Can I take a picture of that and show it to my dad?”

While it is a parent’s instinct to rescue or cheer up or smooth the way, understanding becomes more important than problem-fixing once a child reaches 10 or 11 years old. Middle school is full of emotional ups and downs, and relationships are everything. When things go wrong with friends or classmates, the whole world crashes down on them. Empathy is actually appreciated more than interference, so instead of calling other parents or talking to teachers, a wise parent will be understanding but hands off.

School is also more stressful than parents remember. While teens don’t have to worry about mortgage payments or aging parents, they do have to face countless opportunities to feel dumb, along with perceived judgment from their peers, sitting still all day, and more work when they get home. Instead of convincing them that their lives aren’t so bad, parents will connect better if they express empathy for the trials and anxiety that accompany adolescence.

When things go wrong in your middle schooler’s life, pause before reacting. Don’t offer solutions or try to make things better. Resist the urge to ask questions starting with “Why. . .?” or “How. . .?”  Be available, but don’t push your way in. Offer food or a blanket but don’t insist. Ask if a hug would be okay, but don’t be surprised if the answer is no. Your understanding and patience will be appreciated, far more than your offer of help. And even if your don’t say the words, your middle schooler will hear “I love you” coming through loud and clear.

Caught!

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As I walked down the hallway this week, Taylor and Elysia sped past me going the opposite direction.  “Ladies,” I said, “thanks for not running in the hall!”  “You’re welcome!” they called back as they continued on their way – speed walking as before.

It’s important to catch kids doing the right thing – and then to comment on it.  We raised our kids with the philosophy: the behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated.  But you have to teach the desired behavior instead of focusing on the undesired behavior.  It’s easier to teach what to do than what to not do.  When I see kids running in the hall, I say, “Walk, please” instead of “No running!”  I’ve also told them it’s okay to SPEED walk – a tip these two girls took to heart.

Our Life Skills class planted flower seeds this spring; last week they brought their baby plants into the classroom so they could take them home.  When Dirk moved his from one side of the table to the other, he left a trail of dirt behind.  Without prompting, he grabbed the trash can and brushed the dirt into it.  When I thanked him for doing the right thing and not brushing it onto the floor, he grinned in appreciation.

Tell your kids what behavior you expect from them, and then when you catch them doing it – speak up!