How to help middle-schoolers gain self-control

At a glance

  • Many middle-schoolers act without thinking from time to time. But some kids have more trouble with self-control than others.

  • Set expectations, talk about feelings, and model self-control.

  • Encouraging cool-downs and praising your child’s efforts also help.

Many middle-schoolers act without thinking at times. It just comes with the territory at that age. But if your child seems to have more trouble with self-control than most — whether it’s at school, at home, or with friends — it could be more than just a passing phase.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to help. Kids can learn techniques and strategies to better manage their behavior and emotions. Here are tips for helping your middle-schooler gain self-control.

Set the scene.

Some tweens and teens react badly because they don’t know what to expect in certain situations. Or, just as important, they might not be sure what’s expected of them.

Tell your child ahead of time if something is going to be boring or unpleasant. You can say things like: “This Saturday I want you to help clean out the garage. This should take until about noon. But after that you can go hang out with friends.”

Name their feelings.

Having the words to explain their emotions helps kids feel more in control. It can also help them recognize feelings before they act on them. Gently point out your child’s behavior, and the emotion behind it:

  • “I’ve heard a lot of doors slamming today. Can I ask why?” (Focusing on what you see or hear, rather than what your child did or said — for example, “Why are you slamming doors?” — can make the situation feel less like a blame game.)

  • “I’m seeing lots of sad expressions today. I’m wondering if it has anything to do with the test scores. Do you want to talk about it?”

Model self-control.

This can take real commitment on your part. But when kids see the adults in their lives showing self-control, they’re more likely to do the same.

For example, if you get a parking ticket, count to 10 until the impulse to lose your temper passes. Can’t find your wallet and now you’re late taking the kids to school and going to work? Take a breath and ask out loud where was the last place you had it.

By doing this, you’re not only modeling self-control. You’re problem-solving, too.

Suggest cool-downs.

Encourage your child to take a break in stressful situations. For example, if your child is getting angry about tricky homework or chores and starts yelling at you, try not to yell back.

Instead, suggest that you both step away until things have cooled down. (An angry child hears no one. You’ll also be modeling how to show patience.) Walking around the block or having a snack may be enough for things to calm down.

Breaking complicated tasks into smaller pieces also can help. For a writing assignment, suggest that your child brainstorm and jot down ideas. Then take a break before starting the drafting process.

Praise the effort.

When you see your child showing self-control, say it out loud. A simple statement can motivate a kid to continue the good behavior. 

For example, if your child works on homework instead of doing something more fun (like hanging out with friends), you can say “I know you wanted to get together with your friends. You should be really proud that you caught up on your homework and figured out a way to see them tomorrow.”

Telling your middle-schooler you appreciate the effort not only gives a confidence boost. It’s also a way of showing respect — something tweens often crave from their parents.

There are other ways to help, too. Explore way to build self-esteem. The better middle-schoolers feel, the more likely they’ll keep working on gaining self-control.

Key takeaways

  • It’s common for teens and tweens to have trouble with self-control. 

  • You can help your child gain self-control by talking through expectations and helping identify feelings.

  • Encourage cool-downs when your child is angry — and point out when your child shows self-control. 


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