6 Tips for Handling Difficult Conversations with Your Middle School Student

As our kids get older, some aspects of parenting get easier. They’re potty trained, can communicate their needs, and sleep through the night. But there are also many things about parenting that get more challenging with time. The more our children experience the world around them, the more complex their questions become. Whether you have to deal with a schoolyard bully or explain to your kids why tragic things happen in the world, the conversations are never easy.

We don’t have a simple formula to navigate difficult conversations with your middle school children flawlessly, but we can give you some parenting tips that may help you make the best choices you can when combined with your understanding of your children.

1. Prepare Yourself, If Possible 

Sometimes kids spring tough conversations on us, like the “where do babies come from?” conversation many young parents dread. But, often, we can anticipate how they might feel about things happening in their lives and the world around us. If you are preparing to have a difficult conversation with a child, take the time to prepare yourself emotionally. Create an open and safe environment for your child to share their experiences and feelings, and be ready to respond to anything they might say calmly and gently. Remember not to overreact. If you’re completely shocked and appalled when your child opens up to you, they’ll be less likely to do so in the future.

2. Find Out What They Already Know

While you want to prepare, it’s also important to know what they know about a situation before speaking. Using the where-do-babies-come-from example, if your child is satisfied with the answer “from mommy’s belly,” you may not want to or need to go into all of the details of the preceding events. It’s essential to be aware and respectful of how much your child can emotionally handle at their age. These days, kids are exposed to much more news and ticker tape information than we were as children, and it’s not all information they can emotionally handle. When having these challenging conversations, remember not to over-explain. Follow your child’s lead.

3. Maintain Honest Communication

If you were not raised in an environment where honest communication was the norm, it might be tough for you to practice with your children. But it is so important to consistently maintain an open and honest conversation so that when complex issues arise, they know they have a safe place to go. If you’re not in the habit of communicating openly with your children, it will be more difficult for them to come to you when they need you most. Carve out regular time to connect with your middle school student. Listen intently, reserve judgment, and see where it takes you.

4. Create A Safe Space

Part of open and honest communication with your children is allowing them to speak with you without a dramatic adverse reaction (even when you may feel one inside). The more you practice your poker face in moments of hearing news you’re not thrilled about, the more you build a bond of trust between you and your child. This isn’t to say that you should allow them to get away with bad behavior or not step up when intervention is necessary. But the opportunity to speak and be heard is critically important in any relationship. Have compassion for your children when having difficult conversations with them. How do you talk to your best friend or your spouse? How would you respond if they told you something regrettable? Try to use that tone with your children as well. 

5. Listen Intently

One of the hallmark aspects of successful communication is listening. When communicating with your children and potentially having difficult conversations, you must invest equally, if not more so, in listening than in speaking. When they bring up tough subjects, you may be tempted to sweep them under the rug, but the best way to help your child navigate challenging situations is to ask them questions and allow them to share.

“Someone said that to you on the playground? How did that make you feel? 

“You’re concerned about [insert issue]? Tell me what you know about that.

These questions allow you to get a deeper glimpse of your child’s experience and meet them at the core of their needs. Take time with these conversations, go slow, and repeat their concerns without judgment. Lean in, be present, and look them in the eyes. The way that you listen will impact your conversation partner’s willingness to open up further.

6. Tell The Truth

Finally, tell the truth (within reason, of course). Give your middle school students information they can handle, but don’t lie. Your kids know when you’re being dishonest, they’re savvier than you think they are. Honesty includes admitting when you don’t know the answer to their questions. As parents, we often feel the pressure to be the people in control with all the answers, but your children will respect and understand the moments where you don’t have the answers. 

Middle school is a difficult and exciting transitional time for our kids. Their bodies and minds are changing and developing exponentially, they’re exposed to more of the world than ever before, and they’re trying to find their own identity. Even though our middle school children believe they don’t need us, they need us now more than ever. The best way for you to be present and available for your children when they need you is to start today by opening an honest and trusting line of communication with them, so they know when they have wonderful or scary things to share that you are always there and enthusiastic about being part of the conversation.

At St. Barnabas Episcopal School, we take your children’s academic and emotional development seriously. If you have more questions about communicating with middle school students or are interested in more parenting tips, we can help. If you’re interested in learning more about our community, contact our office today.

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