During adolescence, young people’s brains experience rapid growth. This is especially true in middle school. Tweens are hungry for new challenges but are also still developing the judgment and maturity they need to accurately assess and react to risk. At this age, young people are prone to mistakes that may feel more serious than the kind of errors they were prone to in the past. They are also prone to testing boundaries and, like younger children, need to know that their caregivers are still committed to protecting and loving them, no matter what they do.
You may find that as your child matures, your discipline methods need to change. A few of the principles remain the same: rules should be clear, and they should be enforced consistently. But there are also some techniques you can use with tweens to ensure that they develop the boundaries they need to stay safe during this exciting time of life. For more on the suggestions below, check out How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
- Get curious. Once everyone has calmed down, have a conversation with your child about why they acted the way they did. Additionally, encourage them to reflect on their actions. You might ask them how they feel about their actions now, and what they would do differently. You might also ask them what their motivations for their actions were, and help them to come up with a plan for dealing with these feelings or urges in the future. Not only does this help your child see that you are on their side, it also fosters skills they can use to regulate their actions in the future.
- Use restorative practices. Instead of punishing your child, work together to find a way to repair the damage that was done. If your child bullied someone, maybe they can make an effort to reach out to other students who look like they could use friends. (Never force your child to interact with someone they have bullied or who has bullied them.) If your child caused property damage, maybe they can repair the damage, or pay for the repairs. This approach helps children truly understand the consequence of their actions, and instills a sense of civic responsibility that will serve them well as adults.
- Ask young people to suggest consequences. According to Faber and Mazlish, when children are asked to suggest consequences for their mistakes, their punishments are often harsher than those originally envisioned by adults. Encourage them to take restorative approaches when they can, but, within reason, support their decisions. Allowing children to set their own consequences not only teaches them responsibility, it also invests them in the decision-making process, which can ensure follow-through.
- Model making mistakes. Talk to young people about times when you have made mistakes and tried to repair the damage that you’ve done. Ask what they would have done in your situation, and make it clear that no one is perfect. Doing so will model resilience, and will make young people more likely to confide in you honestly and openly.