Yellow highlighter circling the words When children are young, parental responsibilities often revolve around physical care, like bathing them, feeding them, brushing their teeth, and combing their hair. As children get older and more independent, parental focus often shifts from physical needs to mental needs. However, as middle schoolers transition from child to adult bodies, they must to learn how to take care of themselves physically as well as mentally: mental health is intimately tied to physical health, and caring for our basic needs is vital for living a balanced, happy life.

To this end, here are a few skills and habits to teach middle schoolers to help them learn to care for themselves and their changing bodies:

young African American woman lying on bedPractice sleep hygiene

Help children maintain a schedule at which they have a regular bedtime that allows them to get 9-12 hours of sleep before their school day starts. Also help them to create an environment conducive to sleeping. For example, hang curtains over windows and make sure that bedsheets are clean and of the appropriate warmth. Most importantly, keep the sleeping area free of electronic devices. Not only will this help prevent insomnia, it will also help prevent middle schoolers from making bad decisions about social media at two in the morning!

Learn to meditate

According to Phyllis L. Fagell, author of Middle School Matters, middle schoolers who tend to ruminate often get less sleep and are less focused than those who can stop cycles of overthinking and obsession. Teach your child basic meditation techniques, such as closing their eyes for ten minutes and observing their thoughts, or repeating a mantra over and over again to clear their mind. Not only can teens use this technique to prepare for sleep, they can also use it to reset their mental health during the day.

Black mother and little girl sitting in lotus pose on couch together, mum teaching child to meditateEat balanced meals

Make sure teens understand food groups, and how to balance their meals so that each is represented. Also help teens realize how their nutritional needs are changing with their changing bodies. A cross country runner, for example, may need to increase carbs and protein. A child who has begun menstruating may need to up their intake of iron and calcium. If possible, work with kids to plan and prepare meals – which, incidentally, is a wonderful excuse to spend time together.

Develop an enjoyable and regular exercise routine

According to Fagell, middle schoolers should exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Help teens discover a work out routine that works for them. This might entail joining a team, taking a regular yoga class, or even just going for regular walks in the neighborhood. If you and your teen enjoy a similar activity, this is also a great opportunity to bond by exercising together.

As much as possible, model healthy behavior

In all developmental stages, children learn from watching their parents, as well as listening to them. Try and model all of these healthy habits, but also admit to imperfections. If you miss a day of exercising, or when you decide to order pizza, make it clear that it is okay to make exceptions. Moving away from perfectionism will help make these habits feel more attainable.


Mathangi Subramanian, Ed.D., believes stories have the power to change the world. Her middle grades book, Dear Mrs. Naidu, won the South Asia Book Award, and her picture book A Butterfly Smile was inducted into the Nobel Museum by Laureate Dr. Esther Duflo. Her novel A People’s History of Heaven was longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner award, a finalist for the LAMBDA literary award, and named a Skipping Stones Honors Book. A former public school teacher, senior policy analyst at the New York City Council, and Fulbright Scholar, she currently consults for Sesame Workshop. She holds a doctorate in education from Columbia Teachers College.