Middle school can be a tough time for children (and parents!) as they transition to adolescence and navigate changes in a variety of areas. One of the biggest challenges in middle school is the social aspect as it often marks a shift toward focus on popularity and cliques, to determine who is “in” and who is “out.” These pressures can create anxiety, confusion, and stress in students, especially if left unspoken. Below are 7 tips to help your middle schooler healthily navigate social changes and become more inclusive.
7 Tips To Help Your Child Become Socially Inclusive:
- Learn about your middle schooler’s friendships. Your child is likely to meet new students from other elementary schools, and this can create shifts in friendships. Ask gentle questions, such as “Who did you eat lunch with today?” or “Who would you like to invite over this weekend?” to learn who your child’s friends are. Because friends have an influence in the ideas, activities, and pressures you child may face, knowing who your child is friends with is important.
- Become a safe person your middle schooler can confide in about social issues. Fully listening, empathizing, and reflecting what your child confides in you about friendships can help her to see you as a go-to person. Be mindful not to problem solve and criticize right away, as the most important step is that your child feels completely heard and accepted. (Ex. Instead of “Why would your friend do that?! Don’t hang out with her,” try “So I hear you saying that your friend made up a rumor about a classmate. How did you feel about that?”
- Help your child problem solve. If your middle schooler confides in you about a friendship issue, empower her by guiding her to problem solve. Ask open ended questions, such as “What do you think is something you can do the next time that happens?”
- Help your child think critically. There may be times when your middle schooler talks to you about her classmates that leads you to believe that she is being exclusive. Instead of placing blame or using criticism, ask your child open ended questions to guide her to think critically. Asking questions, such as “Why do you think your friend said that to your classmate? How do you think your classmate felt?”, “How do you feel about that?”, and “What do you think a good friend is?” can help your child think critically without feeling judged.
- Emphasize the importance of inclusivity. Take the opportunity to teach your middle schooler about why it is important to be inclusive. Give examples, such as “Spending time with people who are different from you can help you learn new things” or “It is important to make sure everyone feels safe and welcome at school,” and ask for her own examples.
- Teach by doing. Encourage your middle schooler to invite a new friend or a classmate who does not have appear to have as many friends over for a play date.
- Model the importance of inclusivity. Show your middle schooler that you think it is important to be inclusive by inviting a new co-worker or parent for coffee or lunch. Your modeling of inclusivity can help your child understand and believe in its importance.
What have you tried to help your middle schooler navigate social challenges and become more inclusive? Please share with us!