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For Parents

Gender Identity

The Genderbread Person Infographic

Developmental Characteristics of a Middle Schooler

(Words in bold denote common characteristics through 7th and 8th grade as well into 9th grade)



  • Peers and peer vocabulary (slang) are important
  • Moody
  • Struggles with sense of identity (experiment with behavior, roles, appearance, self image)
  • Express feeling through actions vs. words
  • Test rules and limits and less affection and attention shown to parents… occasionally rude
  • Impulsive and unaware
  • Seek to belong, height of cliques, inclusion/exclusion
  • Demand privileges but may avoid responsibilities
  • Feel misunderstood and that no one has ever felt the way they do.



  • Concerned about physical attractiveness to others 
  • Moody - erratic and inconsistent in their behavior (anxiety and fear are contrasted with periods of bravado).  Chemical and hormonal imbalances can trigger emotions that are frightening for them as well as not understood.  May regress behaviorally.  
  • Struggle with sense of identity - like to be alone, strive for independence, and wonder “who am I?”.
  • Increased distractions (social media, sports, video games, etc.)
  • Music becomes more important (provides a sense of belonging, an outlet, and allows them to express and explore emotions)
  • Peers relationships/peer pressure - feelings easily hurt, increased interest in intimate relationships (immature brain driving a mature looking body).
  • Relationships with parents changes - question parental values, offer one word answers, extreme language and volume in the face of parental involvement, occasionally rude, highly critical of parents, complain that parents intervene with their independence, test rules and limits.
  • Feel misunderstood and that no one has ever felt the way they do.



  • Concerned about physical attractiveness to others
  • Close friendships gain importance
  • Struggle with sense of identity
  • Like to cram as much as they can in one day
  • Search for new people to love (beyond parents)
  • Test rules and limits (complain that parents intervene with their independence)
  • Often embarrassed to be seen with parents;  highly critical of parents dress, habits, ideas, etc.
  • Strive for independence and become more autonomous
  • Feel misunderstood and that no one has ever felt the way they do.

Communicating With Your Adolescent

Communicating with Adolescents


What DOESN’T Work:

  • Lecturing
  • Nagging
  • Arguing (say your piece, turn, leave and ignore any last words thrown at you)
  • Unkindness
  • Criticism
  • Guilt games
  • Ignoring them or freezing them out
  • Using “always”, “never”, “it’s easy!”, or “it’s going to be hard” as a predictor


What DOES Work:

Adolescents often misunderstand body language and the spoken word.  They often need their feelings validated and want to feel that THEY MATTER.  Above all, remember between hormones and their brain not being fully formed, that they are temporarily brain impaired (they lack sound judgment and believe “it can’t happen to me” - highest incidence of experimentation of drugs and alcohol etc. due to this feeling of invincibility). Kindness, genuine concern and showing care are powerful!

  • Conversation
  • Be a source of support
  • Encourage autonomy
  • Trust
  • Monitoring
  • Rules and consequences (that are relevant and explain them)
  • Coping skills
  • School involvement


Adolescents require SLEEP (improves memory and learning capacity, immune system, stabilizes moods, and reduces obesity). They need frequent affirmation and want to feel love and acceptance from the significant adults in their lives. Keep in mind that in today’s day and age Millennial adolescents are experiencing more change, more rapidly than any previous generation.  They are potentially living in a more risky, stressful world than ever seen before.

Relieving School Anxiety

How to Relieve School Anxiety

As a parent, when your child is experiencing discomfort or angst, your instinct is to charge in on a white horse and slay those dragons. But often, a listening ear, a sympathetic word and a reassuring hug will be a bigger help.


Here's How:

1.      Acknowledge the problem. Does hearing, "Don't worry!" help when you're anxious about something? It probably doesn't comfort your child much, either. The most important thing you can do for a child experiencing school anxiety is to acknowledge that her fears are real to her. If nothing else, you'll ensure that she won't be afraid to talk to you about them.

2.      Ask, "What three things are you most worried about?" Making your request specific can help your child start to sort through a bewildering array of fears and feelings. If he's unable to name the things that are most worrisome, have him tell you any three things, or the most recent three things.

3.      Ask, "What three things are you most excited about?" Most kids can think of something good, even if it's just going home at the end of the day. But chances are your child does have things she really enjoys about school that just get drowned out by all the scary stuff. Bring those good things out into the light.

4.      Do some role-playing. Once you have some concrete examples of anxiety-provoking events, help your child figure out an alternate way to deal with them. Discuss possible scenarios and play the part of your child in some role-playing exercises, letting him play the part of the “demanding” teacher or negative classmate. Model appropriate and realistic responses and coping techniques for your child.

5.      Keep the lines of communication open. Let your child know that she can always talk to you, no matter what. It's not always necessary even to have solutions to her problems. Sometimes just talking about things out loud with a trusted adult makes them seem less threatening. And if the situation does become overwhelming for your child, you want to be the first to know about it.

6.      Understand the value of tears. Crying can be a great stress reliever. It flushes out bad feelings and eases tension. It's hard to see your child crying, and your first instinct may be to help him stop as soon as possible. But after the tears have all come out, your child may be in a particularly open and receptive mood for talking and sharing. Provide a soothing and sympathetic presence, but let the crying run its course.

7.      Resist the urge to fix everything. There are some instances in which parents do have to take action. If your child is in a class that's too challenging there are steps you can take, but you'll also want to teach her that some things in life just have to be dealt with, even though they stink. Fix only what's really badly broken.

8.      Know when to get help. Most children experience school anxiety to some extent, and some feel it more deeply and disruptively. When does it become a big enough problem to require professional help? Some signs to look for are major changes in friendships, style of clothing, music preferences, sleeping and eating habits, attitude and behavior. If you've established a good rapport with your child and he suddenly doesn't want to talk, that's a sign of trouble as well.



1.      Set a regular time and place for talking with your child, whether in the car, on a walk, during mealtimes, or just before bed. Some kids will feel most comfortable in a cozy private space with your undivided attention, but others might welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of sharing their feelings.

2.      Be aware that all kids feel anxiety about school, even the ones who seem successful and carefree. Knowing this won't lessen your child's anxiety, but it may lessen yours.

3.      "Freeing Your Child from Anxiety" is a good book for learning more about anxiety and how to relieve it. And to remind yourself how it felt to be in school, read "The Pressured Child: Helping Your Child Find Success in School and Life."

4.      No time to talk?  Chat in the car, on a walk, while watching TV, at bedtime, etc.  Be a sounding board for your student, accentuate the positive, attend back to school night, and provide them tools for success including a quiet and uncluttered place to study, an agenda, writing implements, and help them organize and monitor their backpack.  Look for warning signs of stress and being overwhelmed.  Encourage exercise and provide outlets.  


Adapted from  Terri Mauro, Guide