When children start a new year, feelings of anticipation and worry are common. This is especially true for children entering middle school. Many factors can contribute to rising middle schoolers feeling nervous or scared like a new school building, changing classrooms and teachers throughout their day, meeting new peers, possibly being the youngest in the building again, or higher expectations of independence.
It's helpful for pre-adolescents to know that all of their feelings are normal and okay. Although parents want to help their children feel better, when they tell their kids "Don't worry about it, you'll be fine" or the like, children can interpret it to mean that their feelings are too much for the parent to handle, they shouldn't be feeling that way, or their feelings don't matter. These kinds of phrases don't help children address what is going on for them. Children begin to feel better when their feelings are acknowledged and they feel understood.
Pre-teens still need help dealing with emotions in a healthy way. If they don't get help with their feelings from their parents or caregivers, they may express their emotions through actions like slamming doors, isolating themselves, or other unhappy behaviors. It also helps to keep in mind that with any milestone there can be a mix of feelings; both excitement about what has been achieved and for what lies ahead, as well as possible sadness about what is being left behind. It’s important to leave room for both side of the experience of moving forward.
If you notice troubling behaviors, try not to react immediately and know that your child is trying to communicate something that is on their mind. If it feels like they can talk in that moment, you can reflect what you are seeing and ask them how they are feeling. If they are not ready to talk in that moment, go back to them once they have calmed down. Parents can say something like, "I see you slammed the door, what happened to make you upset?" or "I noticed that you have been in your room all day. How are you feeling?"
When parents and children talk about all feelings, especially unhappy ones, parents model to their children the healthiest way of dealing with their emotions. By having these conversations children learn to turn to a caring adult or friend versus expressing themselves through behaviors that are upsetting. Practicing how to manage emotions will serve pre-teens throughout middle school and beyond.