At a glance
It’s common for middle-schoolers to be moody or rude.
Sometimes kids get upset because they’re frustrated about things they struggle with.
Knowing what’s behind your child’s reactions can help you both keep your cool.
Most middle-schoolers get dramatic or moody from time to time. But when kids get really frustrated, they might react in even more surprising ways. It can look like they’re just being rude or even defiant.
Kids who learn and think differently tend to get frustrated more than other kids. They might react strongly to things that seem small but are actually causing a lot of trouble. That’s why it can be hard to understand the behavior you’re seeing. Is it typical middle-school moodiness? Or is your child reacting to a challenge?
Knowing what’s behind it can help you keep your cool and react in a way that reduces frustration for both of you — rather than fueling it.
Frustration about learning differently
The behavior you’re seeing: You find a crumpled homework sheet on the floor. When you ask about it, your child snaps and responds, “This assignment is so stupid, and the teacher didn’t explain it. I’m not doing it!”
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is being rude and avoiding homework.
The frustration behind the behavior: Your child might not understand the assignment. Your child may also be reacting to the greater demands of middle school.
A helpful way to respond: “I want to help. Did you ask the teacher to explain it? Or do you want me to help you figure out how to do the assignment?”
Frustration about following directions
The behavior you’re seeing: It’s time for your child to clean up before leaving for a friend’s house. When asked if the cleaning is done, your child says, “No, I’m not done yet. And I wouldn’t count on it getting done before I go.”
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is just being defiant.
The frustration behind the behavior: Your child may not know what “clean” should look like. Some kids have trouble getting and staying organized and don’t want to admit it.
A helpful way to respond: “I don’t like it when you use a sarcastic tone. I’m willing to help you clean up. Let’s find a system for keeping it clean.”
Frustration about social situations
The behavior you’re seeing: When your child gets home from the school dance, you ask how it was. Your child ignores you, and when you ask again, says, “Why do you have to keep bugging me about it? Just leave me alone.”
Before you understand, you might think: Your child is being secretive and disrespectful.
The frustration behind the behavior: Your child may be having trouble fitting in. Some kids have a hard time picking up on social cues and knowing how to connect with others.
A helpful way to respond: “I wasn’t trying to bug you — you didn’t answer, so I asked again. But it’s not OK to be rude. Let me know if you want to talk about the dance.”
Learn more about helping your child cope with anger and frustration.
Kids who learn and think differently can get frustrated more often than other kids.
Middle-schoolers might be having trouble socially or with school demands.
Understanding what’s behind your child’s frustration can help you react in more helpful ways.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.