Offering your child skills and strategies for handling emotions is a crucial undertaking for any parent. Verbalizing emotions can be tricky. Coping with the negative effects of emotions is hard. Especially for kids in middle school! Middle schoolers who struggle with these skills will often place blame on an outside source for how they feel, act out when emotions get the better of them, or find it difficult to self-soothe. And without learning how to manage emotions early in life, these issues can carry on into adulthood.
Luckily, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Child Development, these skills can be taught. The study reviewed research on social-emotional skills of over 200 thousand students from kindergarten to 12th grade and found learning social-emotional skills increased attitudes toward school, social behavior, and grades. Teaching the students emotion management also decreased their likelihood of getting in trouble and emotional problems.
Below, we explain 5 ways to help you practice the principles of emotion management with your children in middle school –
Ask questions. When your pre-teen/adolescent is exhibiting negative or uncomfortable feelings, stay curious! Ask them to tell you about their feelings. Instead of saying, “You have nothing to be upset about,” ask “I notice you’re acting upset, want to tell me about it?” While your intentions for brushing off their emotions as inconsequential may be to make them feel better faster, to your child it might feel like they’ve received a scolding simply for feeling down.
Teach that emotions come and go. Emotions come and go and it’s important for your middle schooler to understand the way they are feeling isn’t permanent. There are a ton of metaphors you can use when discussing the fleeting nature of negative emotions — weather, seasons, the rising of the sun and the waxing and waning of the moon. You can respect your child’s feelings in the present while also reminding them that it’s not forever.
Talk about feelings every day. Every day, spend some time going over the good and bad feelings you both felt throughout your day. When did you feel “happy,” “grateful,” “proud”? When did your child feel “frustrated,” “angry,” “disappointed”? The focus here is less about the details of your days but more about the feelings themselves. This not only helps kids learn about verbalizing their emotions but helps to normalize the range of feelings we, as humans, experience every day. Mom and Dad feel frustrated sometimes, too.
Create a list. Sit with your middle school student and help them make a list of all the things they could do when they’re feeling negative emotions. If they’re having trouble, bring up past conversations from the tip above! Ask, “Yesterday, you talked about being angry. What would make you feel better when you’re angry?” Their list could include writing in a journal, playing outside, listening to music, drawing, talking to a friend or family member, writing a letter, the possibilities are plenty. Now, post the list so they can access it next time they’re feeling negative emotions.
Rate feelings. When your teen is expressing negative emotions, and they’re unable to self-soothe, spend some time with them. Ask them to rate their feeling on a scale from 1 to 10 and then hang out. Spend some time doing something positive that your child enjoys (see their list for ideas!) or just go outside and get some exercise. Then, after a little quality time, ask them to rate their emotion one more time. Congratulate them when their number has lowered.
If your pre-teen is struggling with emotion management, and you feel as though you are struggling to help them, offer yourself grace. There are always more chances to teach them. If you feel you approached the subject poorly in the past, apologize and show yourself forgiveness, too. After all, how you handle your own emotions will most likely be your children’s most important example.
For more strategies regarding your child’s emotion management, contact the licensed professionals at Doorways for information about family counseling. Our team can help families learn how to communicate with each other in a caring, nonjudgmental environment. We teach families how to resolve conflict, show love, improve communication and more.