Many middle school kids act without thinking at times. It just comes with the territory at that age. But if your child has learning and attention issues that cause trouble with self-control, it could be more than just a passing phase.
Self-control issues can have far-reaching impact. Your child may struggle to manage his emotions, actions and impulses in many areas of his life. That includes at school, at home, in the community and with peers.
“If your child sees the adults in his life showing self-control, he’s more likely to do it himself.”
But it can get better. Kids can learn techniques and strategies to manage their behavior and emotions. Here’s how to help your middle school child gain self-control and be more successful socially.
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.
Fill your child in ahead of time if he needs to wait for something, or if you need him to do a difficult task. You can say something like: “This Saturday I’d like you to help us 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 emotional outbursts can help kids be 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?”
This can take real commitment on your part. But if your child sees the adults in his life showing self-control, he’s more likely to do it himself.
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. You’re not only modeling problem solving. You’re also staying in control!
Encourage your child to take a break when he seems to be losing control. If he’s building into a rage over difficult homework or chores and begins yelling at you, try not to yell back.
Instead, suggest he step away from it until he’s had time to cool down. (An angry child hears no one. You’ll also be modeling for him how to show patience.) Walking around the block, having a snack or playing a video game may be enough for him to calm down.
Breaking complicated tasks into smaller pieces also can help your child. For a writing assignment, you might suggest that he do some brainstorming and jot down ideas. Then he can take a break before beginning the drafting process.
Reinforce the positive.
When you see your child showing self-control, let him know. A simple statement can motivate him to continue the good behavior. For example, if he practices the piano even though he wanted to hang out with friends, you can say:
“I know you wanted to get together with your friends. You should be really proud you finished practicing and figured out a way to see them tomorrow.”
Telling your middle-schooler you appreciate his efforts not only gives a confidence boost. It shows your child that you respect him—something tweens often crave from their parents.
There are other ways to help, too. Our expert advice on behavior issues can provide useful tips. Explore the best ways to praise your child and build his self-esteem. The better your middle school child feels about himself, the more likely he is to keep working on gaining self-control.