This is an excerpt from my book, Middle School Years Without Tears: Creating and Managing for Wonderful, Awesome, Successful, and Thrilling Middle School Experiences.
Even though it’s important, many parents struggle with communication with their middle schooler.
“Everything seemed to change when my daughter entered sixth grade. It began at the end of her fifth grade year. I kept trying to talk with her, but she was shying away from me. She wasn’t sharing as much with me. It nearly broke my heart.”
I get it. It’s a strange phase. Middle school can be strange. It is logical, then, that talking to a middle schooler could be strange, too. Talking face to face is the number one and best way to communicate, but it may not always go well. Some situations do warrant other methods of communication. If you have talked and talked, then more talking will not be best perhaps. A unique diversion could do the trick. I have heard stories about one day all is fine, and the next day parents really do not know who or what is in the same place as their son or daughter’s skin, but it is not their child. Overnight, their precious off-spring feels alien. If talking becomes difficult or you would just like additional ways to communicate with your child, here are some alternatives. Of course, if communication becomes a really big issue, then professional help is advised.
Send an e-mail. Mail a letter to school for the child to be received at school. Mail a letter to where your child is ie: ex-spouse’s house, camp, or friend’s house. Put sticky notes on the mirror to be receive in the AM or after school or after practice. Place notes in the lunch bag, on your child’s agenda, or in a sports bag. Leave voice mail messages on the home phone to be received after school or on cell phone.
Additionally, non-verbal communication can be quite useful in this situation – try using sign language. For example, use the time out referee hand signal to indicate a time out, a stoppage, or a calm is needed. This can be especially useful if there is heated communication. Using the raised pointer finger as the one moment sign is useful for when you need to pause to think. Using the palm up sign to indicate a time out, a stoppage, or a calm is needed will be understood by all. Using the thumbs up indicates approval. The peace sign, two fingers up, can show agreement. Have fun creating your own special family hand signals.
Silent conversation is not only effective, but fun. Whatever you want to say is written down on paper and each person takes a turn writing something in response to the previous writing. One piece of paper, or a notebook, is used which is shared and pushed back and forth between you and your teen. Absolutely nothing is said. Everythingis written. Even laughter is written in the form of “Ha ha” or a drawn laughing face. This slows down the conversation, provides think time, and decelerates reaction time. It gives each person a chance to truly think what the other is communicating.
Give your child the gift of a venting session every now and then. With prior knowledge and at an arranged time, your child is allowed to vent and to say anything for about five minutes. With your parental broader view of life and understanding, you know how healthy this is, and by allowing such a communication without judgment, you are truly giving a gift to your child. Is there any speech that is off limits to you and your family such as cursing? Can this be allowed during this time? If not, do you realize the benefit of allowing no restrictions for this venting session? You will truly hear just how upset your child is if there are no restrictions.
This communication technique gives your child the opportunity to get it all out. Using the anger pillow mentioned in my first book as prescribed by your family’s set of parameters might greatly assist with this session, too. Your child will be in a better state to communicate and to be a receptive listener if the emotional explosion – an emotional release of resistance – is allowed.
Whenyougive the permission for the emotional explosion to occur, then you give yourself the gift of time to prepare for it. If it happens without your knowing or permission, you are caught off-guard. You might be thrown off by it and react negatively yourself. Everyone needs a proper time and place to blow some steam. Your middle schooler is an up-and-coming adult who is on a roller coaster with hormones raging through the body. Who could need this communication strategy more? Just about every middle schooler! Of course, this technique would then be followed up with listing many options to improve whatever brought on the need for venting.
For communication suggestions 5-10, read Middle School Years Without Tears: Creating and Managing for Wonderful, Awesome, Successful, and Thrilling Middle School Experiences.