6 tips to help middle-schoolers stick with tasks and activities

When kids get frustrated or bored with an activity, they may be tempted to quit. But when the going gets tough, you can help your child learn to “stick with it.”

As school and social challenges build up in middle school, it’s important for kids to learn to stick with things. Practicing this, even in small ways, can boost their self-esteem and motivate them to keep trying when other things are hard. Here’s how to help.

1. Show them how.

Kids may not stick with something because they don’t understand it or don’t remember how to do it. A good way to teach them to stick with a task is to practice it several times together. For example, walk them through each step of making the bed. Show them how to smooth out and tuck in the sheets, put on the blankets, and arrange the pillows. You can even take a picture of the end result. They can refer to the picture later when making the bed on their own.

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2. Don’t give empty praise.

Give your child positive feedback, but make sure it’s reasonably accurate. If their art project doesn’t look so great, don’t tell them it’s a masterpiece. Empty praise can make kids feel like you don’t understand what quality work is. Or like you don’t think they can do any better. Instead, emphasize how much work they put into an activity and ask questions about their process. Your feedback can build their self-esteem and give them the courage to try another project.

Learn more about what to say and why it helps to give honest praise.

3. Break big jobs into small tasks.

Some kids may view a project as an insurmountable challenge. They can have trouble looking closely at what it takes to complete it. When this happens, help kids figure out how far they are from the finish line. One way to do this is chunking, or breaking down the tasks of the project into manageable chunks. This shows that there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. This roadmap can make the whole project seem more doable.

Learn how to break big jobs into smaller tasks.

4. Build in exit strategies.

Kids can have a hard time figuring out if an activity is a good fit. If your child wants to try something new, build in an exit strategy. Agree to a trial period of one month or longer. Make clear that after that, you’ll sit down and see how it’s going. This way kids won’t feel like they’re signing up for an endless commitment.

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5. Discourage making comparisons.

When kids compare themselves to their friends and siblings, it can take a toll on their self-esteem. Try to discourage kids from comparing their performance with that of other students or even siblings. If possible, choose activities that friends aren’t currently doing or that siblings haven’t done in the past. Focus on your child’s effort and personal progress, not on how your child’s skills compare with someone else’s.

Read how one mom felt when her son was compared with his cousins.

6. Aim for empathy.

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge that some tasks are hard for your child. But kids don’t need pity. Instead, they need to feel understood. Try talking about something you struggled with when you were young. If math was hard for you, it’s important for your child to hear how frustrated you felt. Sharing tough experiences with kids helps them feel accepted. And this can help motivate them to keep trying.

Learn nine ways to show empathy to your child.


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