Disclaimer: The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for psychotherapy, nor does it constitute a client/therapist relationship. If you are in crisis, call the crisis hotline at 600-273-TALK.
Q: How do you deal with first crushes in middle school, giving out phone numbers to boys/girls, etc? What are the ground rules? How do you prepare their hearts when this is just a weird time and everyone knows about the crushes?
A: Oh, middle school; what a tough time for young people when they are navigating hormone fluctuations, pimples, and status all at the same time! I love that you are asking this question because it shows you are involved with your middle schooler and engaging in conversations with them, so way to go!
First of all, I would normalize what they are going through. Every kid their age is wrestling with these things and it is normal to feel embarrassed or unsure of themselves at times. The phrase: “everyone knows about their crushes” indicates to me that they have told a friend or two about their crush and it was shared with others. This is a great time to discuss how important it is to keep a friend’s confidence and to be a trustworthy friend themselves. Use the example of how it feels when your information was shared without your permission. Encourage your middle schooler that being a trustworthy friend is a rare but valuable thing and shows character (you may even help them know when it is necessary to share information a friend tells them, such as if they are putting themselves in harms way or need help from an adult). We can also help them learn how to look for friends who are safe to share things with and be able to learn some discernment in who they share what with. This is a skill we need throughout the rest of our lives! Learning who our safe friends are and who we need to be a little more guarded around will help your middle schooler avoid further betrayals of confidence.
As far as how to deal with crushes, I would say to be open with your middle schooler. Attraction is normal and beginning to navigate this is an exciting but scary time for them. Teach them how to get to know the person they have a crush on. Once when my son was in middle school, I saw him trying to impress a cute girl with his athletic abilities. He would run past her and try to show her how fast he was. The girl didn’t even look up! Later, I told him that girls enjoy conversation and being asked about their interests and likes. The next time he saw her, he asked her about her favorite color and favorite food. This is cute and a favorite memory of ours, but it shows how you can help encourage and coach your middle schooler along as they navigate crushes.
As far as giving out phone numbers or ground rules, this is really a judgment for you and your spouse/partner if you have one. For us, we have full access to our middle schooler’s phone and tell them we will check it regularly. We emphasize this is not to punish them but to help them. If we find something we need to question, we are careful to make it a helping conversation and never punish them unless they disobeyed a rule. I also encourage group texts through middle school. This prevents the conversations from turning unhealthy or unsafe. If I know the other kid really well, I am usually more open to one on one texting. Again, there is no “right” and “wrong” here, but keeping an eye on what they are saying and who they are communicating with is a way you can support your middle schooler. They are too young to be able to handle this on their own. Exactly how you support them is up to you, but frequent and often communication and check-ins will serve you well.
Drowning in Responsibility
Q: It’s an incredibly busy time of year for so many – sports, social obligations, work events – how can we come back to center each day? I feel like I’m drowning in responsibility that is becoming Groundhog Day.
A: I think that moms all across this city can all identify with your question! It feels that we often do not have any control over our schedules and are constantly running from here to there. The fact is, we do have some control over our schedules (notice I said “some”). I would encourage you to sit down once a week and see what you can do to simplify your schedule for that week. If your week is crazy busy and your family hasn’t had time to sit down and eat a meal together and this is something you value, maybe you say no to the birthday party invite that week. Explaining to your kids what you value as a family will help them get on board with the decisions you make as a family. You cannot please everyone in your life at all times, so realizing what you value and making decisions according to these values will help you know when to say no to something.
In a busy season, it is necessary to “come back to center” each day, as you said. I love the way you phrased that. Try to build in some margin in your day. One way to do this is staying off of social media during your 5 minute mental breaks. Doom scrolling does nothing for your brain and does not leave you feeling rested and centered. Take some time to go outside, get some vitamin D, take a deep breath, and let your mind rest. Doing this a few times a day will do wonders for your mental health in a busy season. Walks are great as well, especially outside.
For the whole family, maybe discuss how you can come together a few times a week for a meal or just a hang out. Devices are put away and we are connecting with one another. Everything else on your to-do list is on your schedule, so take time to schedule your down times and your times to connect as a family. You will prioritize what you schedule, so schedule what you want to prioritize!
Q. “My kid already has a lot of anxiety 3rd grade about tests. It seems like they’ve ramped up this year. It’s my first kid so I’m unsure on how to best lend support for him?”
A: I hate this for this sweet 3rd grader. My first thought is to find the source of the anxiety. What are they afraid of? Keep peeling back the layers to see if you can find what is going on. For instance, if your child says they are afraid of getting a bad grade, you can ask, “What happens if you get a bad grade?” If they say that they will be embarrassed, you can ask, “why would this feel embarrassing to you? Do other kids see your grades?” Maybe they are afraid that they look stupid because they think they always get bad grades. Once you get to that core fear, you may be able to help mitigate it.
There are many possibilities to why they might be feeling anxious. In the above example, maybe they are struggling with that subject and need some extra help, or maybe something was said to them once and it has really stuck with them. You can empathize with them and tell them how sad you are that that happened and then decide how to move forward.
If you and your spouse or partner emphasize grades, this is an area of adjustment that will help elevate stress. Encouraging effort over grades is always more helpful. For instance, my husband and I might celebrate a C on a math test if our son studied and worked hard to prepare for the test. We will tell him that we saw how hard he worked and we are so proud of his effort. Hard work will take your kids way farther in life than achievement because achievement is usually for a skill they already possess but effort helps them gain new skills throughout their lives. It is also helpful to coach your son in understanding that we cannot give 100% effort to everything at the same time. Maybe this week, we give 100% to preparing for our math test and the other classes don’t get as much attention. This is also a helpful skill to develop and can help everyone adjust their expectations for grades. Making a shift in how you encourage your child may make all the difference!
If the anxiety continues after taking these steps, don’t hesitate to seek a counselor for your 3rd grader. Dealing with anxiety early will help them learn skills to regulate themselves as they grow. A child therapist can be an invaluable resource.
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