Middle school, to a person outside the realm of primary education can seem like a circus…. Let me take that back and rephrase it, middle school often seems like a circus, the crying and the cliques and the stress and the drama, THE DRAMA! Despite all of the biological changes happening with kiddo’s around this age, classroom learning keeps on moving, tests are taken, lectures are given, students are sent to the principal for acting out/up in class, life moves on. And rightfully so, math skills need to be strengthened, literature needs to be read, music needs to be played. But how are we supporting the emotional development of our students as they go through these extremely stressful developmental milestones that have a profound impact on how they think, how they feel and relate to peers and adults? How do we validate and provide support through the drama while maintaining focus on Math and Literature?
Foremost in my mind as I enter a middle school campus is the fact that many of the challenges we, as educators/parents, have with our pre-teens are challenges because of the internal process of puberty that we can’t see. The quickly changing moods, their poor decision making, their impulsivity and at times rebellious nature are all a part of the ever differing hormonal they are completely unware of. So when we make requests like “All I ask is that you think before you act”, which seems perfectly reasonable, adults do it every day, it’s easier said than done. This blog process isn’t about puberty, or making excuses for pre-teens. I advocate for reasonable, attainable goals for behavior…so just keep this little paragraph in your mind.
So how can we support appropriate emotional development in middle school?
Encouraging appropriate relationships with adults that engage your student in the learning process. First and foremost, students listen and are more likely to learn from individuals they feel truly have their best interest at heart (this is the same for adults, teens, the elderly…everyone). A trustworthy mentor, counselor, teacher etc. that can help build confidence, purpose and focus in your student’s educational pursuit.
Creating a safe environment to learn and express. Safe environment meaning physically safe is a given. We want our students environment to be free of physical stressors that suck up energy unnecessarily. For our purposes safe environment is to mean safety that psychologically safe, safety that protects how our children/students feel on the inside. Creating appropriate channels for kiddos to express themselves (appropriately of course); peer mediation, peer to peer programs, awareness education, and character skill building. Focusing on preemptive strategies vs. post problem.
Inclusion of mental and physical health and wellness practices. Tying back in to the paragraph about puberty and all of the hormonal changes middle schooler’s are going through, healthy mental and physical health practices need to be talked about and are JUST as important as math and language requirements. Our students need the opportunity to learn how to manage and “metabolize” stress, resolve conflicts and arguments in appropriate ways, the importance of having a well-rounded diet and the importance of including physical activity in every day. I
Student involvement and recognition. Again, something that speaks to people in general, not just students. We feel more in control, we feel happier, more connected when we are able to be involved in decision making processes, or at least feel that we have a say in decisions that directly affect us. Our students are no different. This is why student lead programs like peer to peer mentoring, student government, student ambassadors, and peer mediation are imperative to the emotional development of our children. These groups can help encourage healthy challenging of authority, and provide channels for appropriate discussion of feelings.
Mentally healthy people are more resilient, they have more confidence in their abilities and even in times of stress or hardship. I strongly believe that supporting appropriate emotional development is the task of every adult in a child’s life; parents, teachers, principal the school bus driver, everyone. How does your campus support student’s emotional development?