Peaceful Parenting through the Middle School Years: Yes, It’s Possible!
Since becoming a parent, I was conditioned to be concerned about how I would navigate my children’s middle school years. Adolescents and teens have a reputation for being moody, irritable, and defiant toward their parents. Parents have a reputation for dreading this stage of development. I know from personal experience what I went through at that age and how I felt emotionally disconnected from my own parents. I wanted a different relationship with my kids as they grew. When I discovered the principles of peaceful parenting, I realized that there doesn’t have to be constant power struggles and shutting down. We can hold space and connect with our adolescents and their mood swings all while holding firm boundaries.
As parents of adolescents, it helps to empathize with and meet them where they’re at. Middle schoolers face unique challenges during a time of significant growth and development. Acknowledging their need for autonomy, peer acceptance and identity formation helps them feel seen and understood. In other words, they already feel like they’re on another planet as it is, constant lectures, judgments, and criticism will only drive them farther away.
Connecting with Your Middle Schooler
By understanding their perspective, we can foster a deeper connection and approach parenting adolescents with compassion and curiosity. You can start connecting with them by asking questions like:
- “How can I help support you in achieving your goals or pursuing your interests?”
- “Is there anything you’d like to do as a family or activities you’d like to try together?”
- “What does success look like to you?”
Try to actively listen and validate their feelings without judgment or lecturing. After a long day of tests and activities, our kids often need to unload the emotional weight of the day. Maybe they didn’t make the team, didn’t pass that test, or their friend was snarky to them. It’s tempting to want to swoop in and say, “It’s ok! You’ll get ‘em next time!” or “I’m sure your friend didn’t mean that!” This approach is dismissive of their experience. What they really need in those moments is not to feel so alone. As parents, we often worry that if we validate their feelings of disappointment, they may spiral. Validating their feelings actually does the opposite of this. It helps them learn that their emotions are valid and accepted, fosters openness between you and your child, and builds resilience. When they feel heard and understood, they are more likely to move through difficult emotions and problem-solve constructively. Validating their experience can look like:
- “I can see how hard this is for you.”
- “That must have made you really upset.”
- “That sounds so frustrating.”
- “It sounds like you had a tough time. Tell me more.”
Peaceful Parenting Is Not Permissive Parenting
Make no mistake, peaceful parenting isn’t permissive parenting. Just because we are taking our children’s feelings into consideration doesn’t mean they are running the show. Setting clear boundaries and expectations is absolutely essential to peacefully and respectfully parenting our kids because it provides a sense of safety and security. They are still kids, after all, with underdeveloped brains. They need parameters. But here is the catch … as much as we can, collaborating with them on the decision-making process will make them feel like you are on their team. Collaborate with your middle schooler by asking questions like:
- “How can we work as a team to make this easier?”
- “How can I support you to help make this happen?”
- “How can we work together to come up with a plan the next time you’re feeling angry, frustrated, etc?”
Finding harmony and cooperation with your kids during their middle school years is indeed possible. While numerous peaceful parenting tools are available, connecting, fostering open communication, validation, setting boundaries, and collaborating are all ways to jumpstart your peaceful parenting journey with your middle schooler.