Tips and Guides

Social & Emotional Development

The tips and advice in this section offer suggestions for supporting your child's social and emotional skills at each stage of development.


  • Self-Awareness

    Take Time to Talk About Feelings With Your Child Every Day

    It can be something you work into a bus, car, or train ride with your child. Ask her what she feels like today, and tell her how you are feeling. Maybe you feel excited to have a day off to spend with her, or you’re nervous about a new job. Just by talking about emotions with your child from an early age you can help her identify those feelings in herself and make her feel comfortable talking about them. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam suggests creating a sign or poster with your child with a choice of faces, like angry, happy, sad and calm. Your child can point to the poster when talking about how she’s feeling for extra practice identifying her feelings. 

    Help Your Child Learn New Words for Feelings

    For example, read a book like Llama Llama Mad at Mama, by Anna Dewdney, with your child. Use the book to introduce new words like "frustrated," "bored," or "angry" when talking with your child about how the baby llama feels while grocery shopping. When reading with your child, try to remember to point out the how the pictures show feelings you’re talking about. This can help your child learn new words for feelings and connect them with expressions and body language. The llama’s tantrum also shows your child that actions are caused by feelings, something you can point out to your child as you read the story. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list

    Don't Worry About Using Words for Feelings That Your Child May Not Understand

    Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab Director Maurice Elias says that hearing you talk about times you are excited, proud, disappointed or frustrated will help her learn how to connect feelings with words. By the time your child starts school, she should be able to speak about her feelings with more words than sad, mad, or happy. 

    Let Your Child Know Her Feelings Are Important

    It can be tempting to tell your child to “stop overreacting” or “stop getting upset” when she gets frustrated over something that seems small to you -- like struggling with a toy or puzzle. Treating your child’s feelings like they’re not important can make her feel bad about her emotions or her reactions. Instead, validate her feelings by saying something like, “It can be frustrating when that toy falls apart, can’t it? I get frustrated sometimes too. Let’s see if we can fix it together.” This will help your child learn that her feelings matter and that you’re there to help. 

    Take Some Time to Talk About How You Are Feeling During the Day

    Tom Hoerr, who is Head of School at New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, suggests finding opportunities to reflect on your day and describe how you felt to your child. It could be while you’re brushing your teeth, or tucking your child in at night. Perhaps you were happy when an old friend sent an email, or upset by a customer at work. Using time to reflect and explain to your child your thoughts and actions allows your child to see how other people feel as well. 

    Teach Your Child It's O.K. To Ask For Help

    Part of self-awareness is knowing your challenges, and asking for help when it’s needed is showing self-awareness. Author and education consultant Faye de Muyshondt recommends telling your child, “If you need help, say, ‘Help,’ and I’ll be there to jump in,” but until your child asks, try to stand back. The lesson is in struggling and understanding when to seek assistance. 

  • Self-Management

    Part of Self-Management is Simply Learning Acceptable Behavior

    Help your child learn what is expected of him by giving clear directions. For example, instead of saying, “Please clean up your toys,” say, “Please put your toy trucks into the red bin, and your book on the shelf.” By explaining exactly what your child should do, you’re giving him concrete examples of what you expect. “Clean up your toys” can mean different things to you and your child, and if he doesn’t understand yet what that means it can be confusing and lead to frustration for both of you. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam suggests also telling your child why we do certain things. For example, “Please put your toys in the red bin and your book on the shelf so that you will be able to find them easily and your room will look nice and clean. Thank you for being so helpful!”

    Help Your Child Learn Routines

    You can help your child learn routines by making a poster together or drawing on a dry erase board what each day looks like. Draw a picture of eating breakfast, brushing teeth, going to school, picking up toys, eating dinner, brushing teeth, and going to sleep. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis recommends increasing your child’s investment in the routine by offering choices during some of the actions. For example, “Which would you rather do first, brush your teeth or put on your pajamas?” Hang the picture or poster where your child can see it. Put a sticker or star next to the activity each time your child completes it. This is a great way for your child to learn self-management through routines and also work on early goal-setting.

    Teach Your Child to Blow Bubbles to Manage Stress

    First, blow bubbles with your child when he is not upset. While blowing bubbles, talk about how the next time your child is upset or mad he can blow imaginary bubbles to make himself feel better. In the moment, remind your child by saying, “Why don’t you blow bubbles to calm down” instead of just, “Calm down!” By giving your child a tool to calm himself (breathing deeply by “blowing bubbles”), you’re teaching him coping strategies for dealing with emotions rather than inappropriate strategies like throwing a tantrum or acting out. 

    Never Underestimate The Power of Your Influence on Your Child

    Your child learns a lot from you and he will often copy your actions. Try to manage your emotions as much as you are able. If you’re upset or frustrated, it’s O.K. to take a break and step away from the situation for a time to let yourself cool down. Try to talk through your feelings and calming strategies with your child, too. When stuck in traffic you could say, “I’m so frustrated by this traffic jam and I’m worried we’re going to be late. I’m going to take some deep breaths and count to ten instead of blowing my horn or yelling.” This will show him everyone has feelings and behaviors they have to control. 

    Teach Your Child to Apologize

    Children are not always going to be able to control their feelings and behavior. By giving your child a tool or technique for when he hurts someone’s feelings or behaves inappropriately, you’re teaching him an important skill he can turn to throughout his life. 

    Make a "Keep Calm" Area in Your Home

    It is a place where your child can go when he needs to take a step away and calm down. Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab Director Dr. Maurice Elias suggests that it not be away from everyone or everything, but simply a comfortable area and clearly marked. He says some parents get a small square of carpet to put in a corner of a room, with a pillow or stuffed animal. This is especially useful when your child has a tantrum. Asking him to go to the “keep calm” area can make the tantrum less serious. The “keep calm” area can also serve as a source of security: if your child knows there’s a place to go to calm down and he can leave as soon as he feels better. 

  • Social Awareness

    Try Role-Playing With Your Child

    Begin by naming feelings like happy, sad, or tired, and take turns with your child acting them out and guessing what emotion is being shown. Director of the Rutgers Social and Emotional Laboratory Maurice Elias suggests that you choose a new feeling (such as angry), and ask your child to think about someone who is angry and what might make them feel that way. Ask her how she can tell when someone is angry. If she does not seem to know, point out the facial expressions or postures that denote anger (as well as other feelings you might choose). 

    Use Story Time to Develop Your Child's Social Awareness

    You can read books like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, with your child. As you go through the story, stop and point out the feelings or reactions of the characters and ask your child how she would feel or what she would do if she were in a similar situation. Ask her how the actions of the characters in the books made others feel, and have her act out those emotions. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam adds that it is very important to use the illustrations in the books to develop your child’s social awareness. High-quality children’s books tend to have very expressive illustrations, like the drawings in author Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list.

    Talk To Your Child About Real-Life Social Interactions

    Highlight a conversation you had with a friend, family member, or clerk at the supermarket that happened while your child was present. Ask her to describe the words, body language and facial expressions that were exchanged. Ask her what she thought the other person felt at the end of the conversation, and tell her to use her stuffed animals to show you what she would have done in that situation. Neurologist Judy Willis suggests that you have a few cues that remind your child of what behavior is best for a situation. For example, if she is going with the family to a wedding, remind her that it is a place for her “inside” or “library” voice even if it is outdoors. 

    Ask Your Child About the Behavior and Feelings of Pets

    Tom Hoerr, the head of school at New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, recommends that you talk to your child about empathy by asking how a pet might be feeling. For example, you can ask her about how the family dog may be feeling after not getting a treat or when she is reprimanded for jumping on the couch. Neurologist Judy Willis adds that it is also good to ask your child about the consequences of your pet’s unintentional actions, and relate it to the unintentional actions of younger children who might take her toys or demand her attention. 

  • Relationship Skills

    Set a Good Example

    Remember that you are setting the example that your child will follow, and if you are aware of your own behavior, you will be better-prepared to help him deal with his emotions, relationships and interactions. When your child sees you being patient, kind, honest and empathetic with him and others, but also speaking up for yourself when necessary, he is provided with a blueprint of proper social behavior. In particular, think about how you “play with others” when you are with your child. If you are with a group of other parents and you are all on your electronic devices, your child will see this as acceptable behavior. Let your child see you interacting with your peers in cooperative ways.

    Teach Your Child the Art of Conversation

    You are boosting your child’s relationship-building skills and providing him with lessons on how to listen and join in conversations through your verbal exchanges with him. Ask questions about things that matter to him and take a moment to really listen to his response. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues that you are modeling. 

    Talk to Your Child About Friends

    Try talking to him about friends, and discuss his experiences with his peers in a pleasant, conversational way. For example, you can ask him, “Did you make any new friends at school?” or “Did you share your toys with your friend Freddy today?” or “Why did you get upset with your sister? How do you think that made her feel?” Don’t expect a lot of great answers, but do look for gradual improvement in the connections of your questions and his answers, as well as the length of his answers.

    Help Your Child Manage Conflict

    It may be challenging for you not to step in immediately and try to make everything better for him, but this can harm his ability to find solutions for himself. Instead, work with him to find solution to problems he may be having. Watch how he handles difficult moments with his peers and try to wait to step in until you see things might not be going well. Sometime shortly after, even at bedtime, help your child review those situations and work his way through a problem with your guidance. Ask him questions about what he thinks he could do in this situation if it happens again, and what the consequences of his particular action will be. You may also want to use puppets or stuffed animals to act out conflicts that your child may be having, like struggling to share a toy with a classmate, or knowing what to say when someone is mean to him on the playground.

  • Responsible Decision-Making

    Allow Your Child to Make Some Choices on Her Own

    As a parent, it may be tempting to step in and make all of the decisions for your child, but this doesn’t allow her to grow her decision-making skills. Instead, at this young age, allow her to make simple choices where you set the boundaries. For example, asking, “Do you want carrots or broccoli with dinner tonight?” instead of, “What vegetable do you want?” makes the decision easier on both of you. You’re allowing a choice, but both choices are good.

    Teach Your Child Where to Seek Help

    Knowing  whom to go to for help can also be a part of responsible decision-making. Even at this  age, you can teach your child about the adults in her life to whom she can turn. When you’re out with your child, take a little time to point out the “helper adults” in the area. For example, a security officer at the mall or a police station near your local park. Tell your child that if you ever get separated in these areas she can go here for help. 

Early Elementary

  • Self-Awareness

    Show Your Child What Feelings Look Like

    Get a poster, or draw one with your child, of faces with different emotions. Ask your child to identify one of the emotions on the poster and when she last felt this way and why. Ask her how she’s feeling now and why she feels that way. This will increase her vocabulary while also helping her more accurately identify her emotions. 

    Help Your Child Identify the Feelings of Others

    Take opportunities everyday to help your child identify the feelings of others. How does his face look when he feels that way? Pointing out emotions in others is a good way to help your child begin to understand those feelings in herself. Teacher Clare Morrison suggests also asking, “Show me what happy looks like for you,” and, “What does sad look like to you?” By making a facial expression, your child is better-able to connect the emotion to her own body language.

    Point Out Feelings Using Family Pictures

    Many young children like to look at family photos. Take the opportunity to talk about emotions that family members are feeling. For example, wedding photos will be filled with happy people. Point out their smiles and their expressions. This could be a good opportunity to point out that someone who is crying isn’t always sad. In some cases it can mean someone is very happy.

    Talk About Your Child's Emotions As She's Having Them

    For example, if she seems angry or frustrated, teacher Clare Morrison suggests saying, “I noticed your eyebrows are closer together and your arms are folded. Tell me how you’re feeling right now.” By prompting your child to talk about her feelings as she’s having them, you can help her identify her feelings. Try not to label her emotion for her by saying, “You look mad” or “You look sad.” Instead, let her give a name for the way she is feeling as she begins to connect her body language to an emotion. 

    Help Your Child Recognize Her Strengths

    When a child shows interest in an activity or topic, it is often because she has a strength related to it. One of the best ways to help your child understand and value her strengths is to encourage her ideas and interests. You can begin to do this by asking her what she likes or noting a topic she talks a great deal about. Nurture her interest by finding related activities. For example, you can both take part in volunteering at an animal shelter if she’s interested in cats. Whatever the activity may be, by encouraging your child’s interests, you are helping to define and enhance her strengths and build her confidence.

  • Self-Management

    Be an Example of Good Self-Management

    Most parents have moments when they are upset. At these times, tell your family you need a small break to calm down. Take this time to think about how to come back to the situation in a positive manner. Your child will see you taking these steps to calm yourself and will be more likely to use this technique himself. You can also talk with your child as you calm yourself down. Head of St. Louis-based New City School, Tom Hoerr suggest saying things like, “I’m going to take some deep breaths and count 1, 2, 3.” One of the best ways you can teach your child about self-management is to model it yourself.

    Identify a Place or Technique to Help Your Child Calm Down

    Pay attention to your child’s natural calming strategies. For example, he might naturally look for comfort in a pillow or blanket, or he might try to walk away from upsetting situations.  Some children may feel better simply by making silly faces or noises until they calm down. Understanding your child’s natural tendencies for calming can help you encourage those behaviors at other times. You can also help identify a special place for him to calm down, and let him choose what to call the space. Some examples could be the “safe place” or the “peace corner.” Teaching your child that it is O.K. to take some time to collect himself will allow him to take the initiative and do it on his own. It can be best to practice this before your child is upset, so that he can return to the technique or space at times when he is upset.

    Limit Screen Time

    Try not to give your child a phone, tablet, or other electronic device every time you find yourselves waiting for a doctor’s appointment, picking up a sibling from school, or waiting for food to arrive in a restaurant. There’s value for your child in learning to control himself in situations where he’s not entertained. 

    Make Routines into an Art Project

    On a large piece of paper or dry-erase board, work with your child to outline getting ready for bed or school. You can cut pictures out of magazines, like toothbrushes or backpacks, to add to the paper. Map out what is done first and what is done last. Do you start with brushing teeth and then getting dressed? Clearly labeling what is expected of your child helps him act accordingly. He will likely need reminding and reinforcing at times, but showing him what is expected is a good place to start. If your child has difficulty with routines, try breaking them into smaller steps. 

    Try Role-playing with Your Child

    For example, play grocery store and have him pretend to be the cashier. As he pretends, he is learning self-management by acting like the cashier. Instead of doing something he might have a sudden urge to do, like pet the family dog, he continues to scan your pretend groceries. 

  • Social Awareness

    Discuss Situations That Occur in Everyday Life

    Take a conversation you had with a friend, family member, or clerk at the supermarket that your child has witnessed and ask her to point out the language, body language and facial expressions that were exchanged. You can also role play with her stuffed animals or favorite toys to show what she would have done in that situation. Even though your child was present when you had this exchange, it’s always a good idea to ask her what she thinks happened, how people felt, and how she could tell this, before you provide your own interpretation of the situation.

    Play a Game of "Feelings Charades"

    A good way to teach your child about body language, emotions, and empathy is to have her play a game of “Feelings Charades.” You can use flash cards with different faces, or even write emotions or behaviors that hurt others on pieces of paper and let your child pick one out of a hat. Take turns acting out the way a person would be feeling with either the emotion that’s on the paper or the face that’s on the card. This will help start discussions on topics that a child this age might be reluctant to talk about otherwise.

    Observe the Behavior of Pets

    If you have pets, you can also use them to help teach your child about social awareness. A dog or a cat, for example, will behave in specific ways when it is feeling happy, angry, playful or tired. Point out these behaviors to your child as they appear, and explain to her how these emotions are similar to those experienced by the people around her.

    Teach Your Child About Personal Space

    Be specific when you are talking about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and provide her with visual cues. For example, you can have her stretch out her arms and explain that this is her personal space, and that she should provide other children with that much space when interacting with them. Remind her that when she gets too close to another person or touches them, they might react negatively. You can also use stuffed animals or action figures to act out what’s appropriate and what is not.

  • Relationship Skills

    Your Child Learns a Lot From You, So Be a Good Example

    Think about how you interact with your family and friends, and how you make and keep friends. Is your behavior setting a good example for your child? Are there certain relationships or areas that you can work on? Evaluating your own relationship skills is a crucial step in teaching your child about social management, and by being reflective, responsive and supportive, you are helping to nurture your child’s sense of social and emotional well-being.

    Cook With Your Child

    Ask your child to help make her favorite dish by following your directions, one at a time. Make sure to say “please” and “thank you” and acknowledge all of her efforts. This will not only help her learn about the art of listening, but teach her about the importance of being polite to others, especially while working on group projects.

    Talk With Your Child About Her Day and Interests

    Don’t be satisfied with one-word answers. Often, parents have a lot on their plate and are happy to keep discussions brief, but children need practice in expressing themselves clearly and completely. Make sure to point out when she says something that is thoughtful or when she uses her language skills appropriately. For example, when she says something kind about others, like, “Sally was nice to me today because she shared her snacks with me,” or if she poses a good question during your conversation, “Can I take some snacks to share with Sally tomorrow?” When she asks something that is not related to what you are talking about or not clearly expressed, help her stay within the conversation. 

    Help Your Child Find Solutions to Problems She May Be Experiencing

    A helpful approach is to ask good questions about what she thinks she should do in any situation, and what the consequences of her particular solution will be. For example, if she is having a hard time with a classmate, you can say, “If your friend doesn’t want to play with you, you might want to ask her if you did anything to hurt her feelings. Do you think you should say sorry? If you say sorry, she might feel better. If she did something to you, maybe you can ask her why she did that.” You may not be around to solve any difficulties that occur, and it is better to start helping your child build this essential skill when she is young and problems are less serious.

    Talk to Your Child About Friendships

    Ask your child who her friends are, and then ask her about the qualities that she looks for in a friend and how she likes her friends to treat her. For example, ask her, “Why do you like to play with Jamal after school? What makes him a good friend?” Make sure to ask her about qualities that she doesn’t like, and what makes her a good friend to others. For example, “Has Shannon ever said anything that made you feel sad?”

  • Responsible Decision-Making

    Show Your Child That You'll Always Love and Support Her

    Adults and children make bad choices at times, and supporting your child through hard decisions and poor choices shows you love her unconditionally. Of course you want to point out that some choices are not acceptable, but if she makes the same mistake again, make sure to reinforce you still love her. You can also help her make up for those mistakes. Did she hurt a friend? Have her write an apology note and ask for forgiveness.

    Give Your Child Room to Make Decisions on Her Own

    Some decisions like which book to read at bedtime or whether she wants carrots or sweet potatoes with dinner are not big choices for you, but allowing her the choice will make her feel more involved and give her more autonomy. Also give her room to make decisions even if she doesn’t make a choice you agree with, as long as the consequences don’t affect her health or safety. For example, if your child wants to take her allowance to school, let her make that choice. If she ends up losing a few dollars or coins at recess, she will likely feel bad about it and learn that it wasn’t a good idea. Letting children learn from their own mistakes is a great teaching opportunity that they will likely remember longer than if you had simply said “no” from the beginning.

    Talk to Your Child About Consequences

    This can help give her tools she can use to make her own decisions in the future. Ask her questions like, “What do you think will happen if we don’t wear our coats outside today?” or, “If you don’t go to sleep on time, what do you think you’ll be like at school tomorrow?” or, “How do you think your sister will feel if you play with her favorite toy without asking?” Taking another person’s perspective enhances the quality of your child’s decision-making because in order for your child to make the best decision she must be able to understand how it will affect others. Learning that there are consequences for actions that affect your child and others is a good way to promote empathy and responsible decision-making.

    Use Bedtime Stories to Talk About Responsible Decisions

    Books that center on characters that have to make decisions, like the Berenstain Bears series, are a great option. Pause when the characters get to the problem. Ask your child what she thinks the bears should do, and what she thinks will happen. Talk about the problem as you’re reading, using terms like, “How would you solve this problem?” or, “What is the problem again?” and “What should Sister Bear do now?” This is a great opportunity to ask your child about problems she has faced recently and how she was able to solve them. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list.

    Explain to Your Child That Different Rules Apply in Different Settings

    For example, inside or quiet voices need to be used in places like libraries and movie theaters, but cheering or loud yelling can be appropriate when watching sports or playing them. This allows your child to understand the differences in situations that can impact her decision-making.

    Talk About a Decision You Are Currently Making

    For example, you could focus on things like what you’re planning to buy at the grocery store. Talk through your plans for making dinners, what ingredients you think you’ll need and why you’ll choose what you will. Why are you going to make tacos instead of pasta? What are the health implications of the items you’re buying and why do you choose them? Are you trying to make sure everyone in the family has something they like to eat this week? Maybe you’ve decided to make pancakes for dinner one night for a change of pace, or you’re planning to put broccoli in the mac and cheese to get a vegetable into the mix. This gives an opportunity for your child to see the decision-making process in action and understand that even simple decisions like what brand of tomato sauce to buy have reasoning behind them. Alternatively, you may make a choice that doesn’t have reasoning behind it, like choosing a sweet potato over a plain potato. Letting your child see that some decisions can’t be explained will be a comfort at this young age, when your child is likely unable to give a reason behind most of her decisions.

Late Elementary

  • Self-Awareness

    Use Different Words to Describe Your Emotions

    For example, instead of saying “I’m happy we all get to spend the weekend together” try using a word like “grateful” or “thankful” or “glad.” Exposing your child to more words can help build his emotional vocabulary. Sean Slade, director of the Whole Child Initiative at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, recommends also sharing the reasons behind your feelings. By explaining what makes you tick, you are modeling self-awareness and showing how other people’s actions can affect your moods.

    Encourage Your Child to Get Involved in School Musicals or Plays

    Many schools and communities have opportunities for children this age to take part in acting, which builds on their self-awareness by letting them act out feelings. If your child isn’t interested in performing himself, take him to watch actors in a local play or musical, or to the movies, and talk about how the actors knew which expressions to make in order to accurately portray the character’s feelings.

    Use Books or TV to Point Out Complex Emotions

    For example, take a moment to point out complex feelings and ask your child why he thinks the character feels the way she does. Is the character jealous of a classmate while also feeling rejected by not being invited to her birthday party? For children who are less self-aware, you can go a step further and relate the characters to your child. Teacher Anne Harlam suggests saying, “The character reminds me of you -- people like to talk to her because she is a good listener!” or, “The character reminds me of the time when you were nervous because you didn’t have any of your old friends in your class.” Relating your child’s experiences to characters’ emotions can help your child build self-awareness. For age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list.

    Encourage Your Child to Keep a Journal

    Promise not to read it and keep that promise. Allowing your child an outlet to describe what he’s feeling and thinking can help him verbalize his feelings. Having those emotions and thoughts written down will also help your child identify patterns and causes. If he often writes about feeling excited by an upcoming sports game or travel, he may recognize those events as triggers for his emotions. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis recommends also providing a separate response journal where your child can write down feelings and ask questions that you respond to. Writing down thoughts may be a more comfortable way for your child to discuss feelings than actually speaking about them. 

  • Self-Management

    Model Self-Regulation

    For example, if you find yourself on hold with customer service and feeling impatient, tell your child, “I really hate being on hold; it’s very annoying. But I’m going to take a few deep breaths and I’ll calm down.” Showing your child your self-control in the moment can be a powerful lesson. You can even work on those skills with your child when she’s not angry. Talking about coping skills like counting or taking deep breaths while she is calm will give your child practice and a skill she can turn to when she’s upset. You can also talk about the times you haven’t succeeded with your self-management to show your child that this is a learned skill that requires work.

    Help Your Child With Stress Management

    As your child ages, she may begin to feel stress as a result of more demanding coursework or the increased social pressures that come with the pre-teen years. You can help your child find ways to reduce stress. For example, if she’s worried about a test, there may be an opportunity to speak with the teacher beforehand or for her to study with a classmate. You may even want to explore physical exercise as a way to manage stress. Many people find simply walking or jogging a great stress release. Teacher Anne Harlam recommends children’s yoga as a fun way for children to relax. The next time your child seems stressed or upset, ask her to join you on a walk, or for a game of basketball, and see if getting her blood pumping also helps to distract her from stress.

    Ask Your Child to Help Around the House

    Ask your child to assist you with small tasks around the house, like setting the table or laying out clothes for school the next day. Discussing and following through on simple routines and tasks helps develop her self-management and goal-setting skills. It’s teaching order, organization and time management on a small level by having your child work through a set of tasks to complete a goal.

    Pay Attention to Your Child's Behavior

    New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam says your child may not always communicate her feelings, but her actions and behaviors may offer clues. For example, if you notice she gets stressed or acts out on days she has tests, sports practice, or music lessons, it means she feels more pressure in these situations than you knew. Noting possible causes of her stress or other emotions can help you find ways to help her manage those feelings.

  • Social Awareness

    Model Good Behavior

    A child’s social behavior is best reinforced when parents are kind, sincere and non-judgmental. Remember that your child is looking to you to set an example of how to interact with others, and that taking a moment to consider how you interact with others is an important part of nurturing your child’s social skills.

    Share Your Family Values With Your Child

    To help your child learn about the need for respectful behavior, help him create a family credo, coat of arms or crest. Talk with him about your beliefs and expectations, and work with him to come up with a list of your family’s values, like trust, respect, kindness and generosity. After you have this list, ask your child to identify three different ways that he can apply these values in social situations. You may also want to write out all of this information on a poster board and hang it in a central area in your home as a reminder of your family’s values and expectations.

    Discuss Different Perspectives

    To help your child understand and respect the perspectives of others, talk with him about a book that he’s reading or a television show or movie that he watched recently, and ask him what would happen if the story were written from another perspective. For example, a book about King Arthur and Merlin the sorcerer can be told from Merlin’s sister Morgana’s perspective. Or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can be told from Charlie’s grandfather’s point of view. By doing this, you are not only teaching your child how to see life through different lenses, but also building his capacity for empathy and understanding.  

    Discuss Current Events

    Talk to your child about social issues like immigration and racial and gender inequality. When you’re watching the evening newscast or reading the morning paper, ask your child to give you his opinion on these issues and talk to him about the people involved on both sides. These types of stories make children aware of historical events and allow them to relate to the hardships and joys of others. They also help children to learn more about conflict resolution and the importance of respecting others and their opinions.

  • Relationship Skills

    Use the "Sandwich" Technique

    Use the “sandwich” technique. Author and consultant Faye de Muyshondt suggests employing this technique when teaching your child how to approach certain conversations, especially when providing feedback or addressing an issue. In basic terms, this method involves “sandwiching” the feedback or problem in between a compliment and a positive conclusion. For example, if your child feels that a friend treated her unkindly, she could start with a positive comment like, “I value your friendship, and you’re always so nice to me,” then continuing with, “The other day when we were at lunch, you yelled at me and that made me sad.” This can be followed with, “I really want to keep being friends, so next time, just tell me if I’m doing something that bothers you and we can fix it before we start yelling at each other.” For more ideas on what to say, visit our conversation starters guide.

    Practice Active Listening With Your Child

    Role-playing can be an effective way to help your child learn how to be a respectful listener. Begin by asking her what she did this weekend, and as she is talking, make sure to fidget around and not give her eye contact. Once she is done, tell her to describe your body language and ask her how it felt when you were not listening to her. After this you can model what active listening looks like, and ask her to practice listening to you. When she is done, give her feedback like, “You made really good eye contact with me and you seemed to be very interested in what I had to say.”  Make sure to talk to her about why active listening is important, and help her come up with strategies for how she can be a better listener to others.

    Talk to Your Child About "Put-ups"

    Before bedtime or while commuting to school, talk to your child about put-downs and how they hurt people. Ask her to give you examples of put-downs she may have heard or said to others, and how she thinks these insults made people feel. Tell her to spin those put-downs around and come up with put-ups that she can share with others next time to make them feel better or more confident about themselves. You can also find examples of put-downs in the media. Use them as a jumping-off point for a discussion about how the situations could have been handled without making others feel unnecessarily hurt.

    Read Books About Resisting Peer Pressure With Your Child

    Books like Say Something or One of Us by Peggy Moss can help you spark a conversation about the importance of resisting negative pressures when trying to fit in with others. Once you have read the book, talk with your child about the forms that peer pressure can take (remember that peer pressure can be positive, too, if your child’s peers are steering her in the right direction), and ask your child what her friends do that makes her want to do good things. You can also ask her how it feels to be pressured in a bad way and how she dealt with it. Work together to identify negative pressure and figure out ways she can stand up for herself the next time she finds herself in a negative peer interaction. This may also be a good time to discuss tobacco, alcohol and drug prevention strategies, as it is never too early to teach your child how to avoid these influences. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list.

  • Responsible Decision-Making

    Show Your Child That You Love and Support Him

    Children will make mistakes as they test boundaries and explore their growing independence. By showing your child you support him even when he makes mistakes, you’re showing him that you’re reliable and a constant comfort, which will help him not to  be afraid to try something new and make mistakes again in the future.

    Teach Your Child to Save Money

    If your child wants a new toy or video game, make him save up money for the toy himself. By late elementary school he is capable of doing small tasks for an allowance. He may also get money from relatives and friends for birthdays or other holidays. Teaching him to save that money for something he really wants will help him learn to make decisions to reach those goals. This also teaches him responsibility and some financial literacy as well.

    Help Your Child With Decision-Making Strategies

    Parent-child interactions are the foundation of your child’s social development, and when you are responsive to your child’s needs and provide her with the freedom to make decisions on her own, she is more likely to be successful in social situations. Share with your child an important choice you made in the past, and together, break down the steps that you took to reach that decision. You may even want to write it out so you can both look at it, including a list of the pros and cons of that decision. Advise your child that next time she has a tough decision to make, she can try to brainstorm a lot of options and then use a pros and cons list to help her reach a conclusion. These kinds of conversations will help you gain a better understanding of your child’s thought process, and it will allow her to see the logic and steps involved in making well-informed and thoughtful decisions.

    Point Out When Your Child Makes Good Decisions

    Often, children don’t realize they are making decisions at all. For example, if your child decides to read a book instead of fighting with her sibling over the remote control, tell her that you noticed she not only made a choice to avoid conflict with her sibling, but also one that will help her academically. Praising good choices can encourage your child to continue making those decisions in the future. Additionally, make sure to take time to discuss your child’s day. Look for ways to highlight positive decisions she made and talk about why she made the choices she did.

    Talk Through Problems, Logical Consequences, and Resolutions

    Point out that there are often several ways to solve a problem. For example, if your child is having a hard time with a classmate during recess, you can talk with her about ways she can approach the classmate and what the potential outcomes of the conversation could be. Additionally, if your child is falling behind on her homework, you can talk through ways to remedy this. For instance, she could set aside time after dinner to continue working, she could skip an extracurricular activity until she is caught up, or she could decide not to do anything at all. You can help her talk through the different consequences of missing a favorite TV show, missing her friends or falling further behind and running the risk of failing a class. It becomes apparent rather quickly that the best option would be to set aside more time at night, and you can help guide her to the decision that will benefit her the most.

    Teach Your Child Environmental Responsibility

    Taking a responsible role in society and learning how his actions affect others is a good way for your child to practice his decision-making skills. For example, try recycling or conserving energy. Talk with your child about how bettering the environment helps others. Then work together to come up with a plan for how you can help conserve energy or encourage recycling in your home. It shows your child how small everyday decisions and actions can make an impact in the larger world.  

    Take Part in a Service Project Together

    Ask your child to plan a service project in which your family can help out in the local community. It can be volunteering at the local food bank, gathering items for a clothing drive, or spending time reading to the elderly at a local nursing home. By finding ways to translate the lesson of responsibility into action, you are helping to raise a more accountable and trustworthy child.

Middle School

  • Self-Awareness

    Try to Talk With Your Child About His Feelings Regularly

    It may be hard at this age to engage your child in a long discussion about emotions, but taking a couple of minutes a day to ask “What made you feel good today?” or “Did anything upset you today?” is a great way to show you care. Try to avoid questions that will get a “yes” or “no” answer to create more conversation. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam suggests also talking about your own feelings. For example, “I’m really stressed out about this deadline at work” or “I’m really excited to spend time with the family this weekend.” Even if there isn’t always a discussion started, simply by providing daily interactions around your child’s emotions you’re creating an environment where your child knows he can talk to you. This will make him more likely to talk to you when he is ready to, or really needs to. For more ideas on what to say, visit our conversation starters guide.

    Be Careful Not to Tell Your Child How He Feels

    Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab Maurice Elias says that it’s better to say what you see. For example, “It looks like you are feeling conflicted about going to that party, because you are not acting as excited as you usually do,” or “You say you are not nervous about the test, but you are very fidgety when you are trying to sit down and study.” By saying what you see, you signal to your child how he looks and give him a chance to correct you, explain, or perhaps deny what you said, but still have that feedback. This is different from saying, “You don’t really want to go to that party, do you?” or “I can’t believe you aren’t nervous about that test.”

    Make Sure Your Child Has Other Trusted Adults She Can Turn To

    During adolescence, children often pull away from their parents, and they may not discuss important topics as much. Try not to take it personally, and point to other trusted adults your child can talk to about concerns, dreams or friendships. A close family friend,  cousin, grandparent, aunt, teacher or school counselor could be an adult she could turn to. Take the time to get to know the adults with whom your child is interacting to make sure they are safe mentors for your child. 

    Be Supportive of Your Child

    Many children entering adolescence are more self-conscious than when they were younger, as their bodies are changing and they experience more social pressure. Let your child know you’re always there to listen and, if he asks for it, offer advice. Try sharing stories of embarrassing times you had growing up, and encourage older siblings or family members to share as well. Having the reassurance of a supportive and empathetic parent can help your child through feelings of self-doubt and self-consciousness.

    Encourage Your Child to Explore His Strengths

    Even if he excels in an area that might not be popular, like a certain sport, playing a certain instrument, or joining certain clubs, his ability to recognize his strength and value in an unpopular area is self-awareness. Acting upon that strength and developing it further is a way to really show self-awareness, especially at this age when peer acceptance and pressure is so prevalent. Tom Hoerr, who is Head of School at New City School in St. Louis, recommends praising your child’s effort, energy, and participation instead of focusing on the final outcome.  

    Look For Opportunities to Just Listen

    Education consultant Jennifer Miller notes that children may not confide in you at convenient times or when you ask them direct questions. However, if you create a trusting and open listening environment, they will be more likely to open up to you when they are ready. At those times, listen actively and ask questions. Try not to offer solutions to problems immediately. Instead, discuss the problem and allow them the chance to think for themselves about their own issues.

  • Self-Management

    Be an Example of Self-Management

    At this age, some children may say that their parents are “stupid” or “don’t understand anything,” but parents are still one of the biggest influences in their lives. It can be frustrating to deal with a middle-schooler who may seem more difficult than in her younger years, but by maintaining your own composure, remaining calm, and addressing your child with respect, you can show her what self-management looks like. Try to remember that you will feel better if you’re able to maintain your calm when dealing with your child, and try to talk through your strategies, too. For example, “I’m going to count to ten before I respond to your question.” You might be surprised when you see your actions reflected in your child.

    Remind Your Child That There Are Consequences to her Actions

    Slamming doors, yelling, or acting out against family members or friends may happen frequently at this age. When your child has calmed down from an outburst, talk to her about how her actions reflect on her and affect the family. For example, she may scare a younger sibling or pet when slamming doors, or she may hurt a friend’s feelings when acting out. You might also point out a time where she was able to handle a similar situation better. By pointing out her self-management skills and how her actions affect others and their perceptions of her, you are giving her a tool to see the impact of her behavior on the people who matter to her -- including herself. 

    Give Your Child Household Tasks to Complete Each Week

    These shouldn’t be considered “chores” but simply tasks that everyone in the family has to do to keep the household running smoothly. Emphasize that everyone in the family has tasks to do and it’s part of being a team, or family. She could be in charge of taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, feeding the family pet, or sorting and folding laundry. Allow her a choice in which task she does, but stay firm that she needs to choose something. By doing a task she may or may not enjoy, your child is learning more self-management and responsibility, as well as how to be an active member of the community.

  • Social Awareness

    Keep the Communication Lines Open

    Your child’s social world broadens during middle school, and it’s important to take the time to regularly talk to him openly and honestly about his feelings and friendships. Whether it’s at the dinner table or right before his bedtime, have frequent chats with him about his social life and his role as a friend. Try not to be too judgmental while having these discussions, as this can cause him to withhold information or not want to talk about these issues at all. Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab Maurice Elias says that it’s good to always offer to drive for your adolescent and his friends. He adds that you will learn a great deal by listening to their conversations in the car, and you will also get to know more about your child’s friends and what they are doing. 

    Nurture Your Adolescent's Empathy

    Middle school is an awkward time for any young person. It may involve a move to a larger school with more peers and going between classrooms for the first time. Your child may feel uncertain in this new and shifting social scene. He may also be nervous about making friends. By talking to him and explaining that everyone else is going through the same challenges, you can help him better-understand his peers and the importance of using empathy in his social interactions. You may also want to encourage him to make new friends or join school clubs and organizations to get to know different people. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam adds that if your teen is more introverted, you should try not to push him into social situations or put too much pressure on him to meet new people. She suggests that you allow your adolescent to make friendships at a pace with which he is comfortable, and give him the support that he may need to overcome his social challenges.

    Get to Know Your Middle-Schooler's Guidance Counselor

    Maurice Elias says that counselors can be a good source of information about what is happening in school, and if you notice changes in your child’s behavior that you can’t explain, you can check in with them. There could be things happening at school that you should know about, particularly bullying or cyberbullying. The counselor can be a big help in understanding and, in some cases, reaching out to your adolescent. 

    Books Can Spark Conversations About Bullying

    Many schools have programs about these topics that involve books and other readings, and finding out about these can open up conversations about their content with your adolescent. If she seems to have some concerns about bullying, look for natural opportunities to mention books about the topic, like Freak by Marcella Pixley, Wonder by R. J. Palacio and Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance by Rhoda Belleza. These books lead naturally to a discussion about the forms that bullying can take. You can also ask her if she’s ever dealt with bullying or cyberbullying, and work together to figure out ways she can handle these types of situation in the future. For more age-appropriate book examples, see our reading list.

  • Relationship Skills

    Teach Your Child About First Impressions

    Parent Toolkit expert Faye de Muyshondt suggests that you teach her how to maintain eye contact, speak clearly, introduce herself and smile or convey warmth to make a good first impression. You can help your adolescent practice this by role-playing and taking turns introducing yourselves to each other. Talk to her about the importance of first impressions and help provide her with a mental checklist that she can use when meeting new people. Director of Rutgers Social and Emotional Learning Lab Maurice Elias recommends that you also ask your child to reflect on the first impressions that she is making on others. For example, you can ask questions like, “How do you see yourself?” “How do you think others to see you?” and “How do you want others to see you?” Keep in mind that you are also modeling for your child when you meet new people and make introductions, and you can use those situations as teachable moments. 

    Talk to Your Middle-Schooler About Responsible Online Behavior

    Most adolescents use electronic devices and social media, and it’s important to teach them how to behave appropriately online. Take this opportunity to discuss how the digital age has improved our lives, and then remind her that a person’s online footprint lives on in the virtual world and that almost nothing can be erased once it’s posted. This is also a good opportunity to discuss online bullying. Talk to your teen about the importance of being kind to others online and resisting going along with the crowd when someone is being made fun of. Monitor her time on social media and make it clear that “friends”  in the virtual world are not the same as friends in the interpersonal world, and that she will need to develop her skills in relating to people in a range of everyday, non-electronic situations.

    Discuss Peer Pressure With Your Middle-Schooler

    Regardless of your child’s friends and social status, peer pressure will become an issue at one point or another. Education consultant Jennifer Miller recommends that you discuss peer pressure openly with your child, and talk about possible scenarios. You can ask her questions like, “What if the other kids are spending the night at a house while the parents are unaware and out of town?” Ask how your child feels about the scenario you’ve offered, and discuss the potential consequences of various choices and what she might say to a friend who is asking her to take part. Talking through these kinds of possibilities prepares her with language to use with her peers so she is ready.

    Use Your Child's Interests to Help Him Develop New Friendships

    Many middle-schoolers have passions and pursuits that are important to them, and it’s helpful to encourage your child to find out what his “thing” is. You can do this by researching topics of interest together or pointing out potential hobbies or future career options. Colorado-based school counselor Sharon F. Sevier suggests that once you identify your middle-schooler’s interests, you may want to have him participate in groups or activities outside school that foster his talents and may help him find new friends. She says that these groups enlarge the friendship circle beyond school. Youth groups and programs at religious organizations, scouts, athletics, music, drama and volunteer work all offer adolescents a chance to grow and blossom and develop new friendships with different people.

  • Responsible Decision-Making

    Define Safe and Smart Choices With Your Middle-Schooler

    For example, talk to her about her physical health and the consequences of making irresponsible decisions like smoking cigarettes. Tell her about the impact on her health, like how it would affect her soccer skills or singing ability. Also talk through alternatives to negative choices. For instance, explain to her that she can always call you or other family members for a ride home instead of getting into a car with someone who has been drinking or using drugs.

    Support Your Middle-Schooler's Decisions

    Support your child when he makes decisions you don’t agree with. It is bound to happen in every parent-child relationship. Even if you knew it was a bad decision, take the opportunity to talk with your child about it. Try not to lecture; instead, ask what he learned from the choice, and how he’ll handle a similar situation in the future. If he hurt you or someone else, give him the opportunity to make amends and ask for forgiveness. It’s important to show your adolescent that even if you don’t agree, you will still love him and be there to talk with him. For example, instead of saying, “I told you it was a bad idea to skip studying for that test,” say “Do you think you’ll skip studying next time? What would have been a better choice?”

    Bring Your Middle-Schooler Into Discussions About Family Issues

    By allowing him into discussions like which movie to see or what to have for dinner -- as well as more important matters, such as how to deal with issues affecting younger siblings -- you’re giving him the opportunity to have his opinions heard. This shows that his opinions matter and that you’re open to hearing about his ideas. This may encourage him to share decisions he has to make about school or friends with you as well.

High School

  • Self-Awareness

    Help Your Teen Express Her Feelings

    Provide your high-schooler with ways to express her feelings and think about her experiences.  One option is to encourage her to write frequently. She can write in a journal, on her computer, or even in a password-protected blog. Promise not to read her writing if she doesn’t want you to, and keep that promise. As your child transitions to young adulthood, she may be less likely to share all her thoughts and feelings with you. Giving her an outlet to write her emotions allows her time for self-reflection and further develops her self-awareness.

    Model Self-Awareness

    At family dinners, during commutes, or whenever you can, talk with your teen and let her know how you’re feeling and why. For example, you might say, “I’m getting a bit anxious for the holidays already. While I’m excited to spend time with the family, I’m nervous about taking time away from work and having even more to do when I get back.” By creating an opportunity to discuss your feelings, you’re letting your teen see your emotions and that you are comfortable talking about feelings. This provides her a safe place to talk with you about what she’s feeling, too.

    Talk About Plans for the Future

    Discuss potential career, personal or higher-education goals with your child. Ask her questions like, “Which class is your favorite right now? Do you think you’d like to explore careers where you could use what you’re learning in that class every day? What are your strengths?” Helping your teen identify her strengths and her challenges in an open discussion can get her thinking about ways to further develop those skills into adulthood. Also talk about personal goals by asking, “Who do you look up to, and what makes them admirable?” Perhaps she has a mentor at school who is kind and thoughtful. Your teen is not just dealing with her educational and professional future; she’s also learning more about herself. Try asking, “What’s your favorite book you’ve read for class recently? ” You may find you both liked the same book in English class, which provides an opportunity to further connect with your child.

    Talk About Labels With Your Teen

    Education consultant Jennifer Miller recommends talking about labels and stereotypes that go along with them. Do peers call your teen a “jock” or a “geek?” Does your child use those terms to discuss other classmates? Give an example of how labels can be limiting and how someone your child might think is a “nerd” can also be so much more than that. Also, be aware of your own language when talking about your teen with friends and family. Try to not use labels when talking about your child, as it can be harmful or hurtful to teens who are trying to build their own identities.

  • Self-Management

    Don't Forget Your Teen Still Looks to you as a Role Model

    As some children age they try to distance themselves from their parents, but they do still learn from you, whether they admit it or not. Set a good example for your high-schooler by not letting your emotions get the best of you. Tell your teen what you’re doing to maintain your composure so she can learn from you. For example, if you are in an argument with your teen, say, “I’m not going to raise my voice with you right now. Instead, I’m going to take five minutes and take some deep breaths, and we can continue this conversation after we’ve calmed down.”

    Talk to Your Teen About Managing Stress

    As your child transitions to young adulthood, her responsibilities and her social pressures increase, and she will often feel stressed. Talk with your teen about how she can better-handle her stress, like taking a break for exercise, making sure to get a good night’s sleep, or making a to-do list to better-organize assignments and other responsibilities. When you see your teen worrying about a test or social situation, gently remind her of ways she can take a step back and handle that stress.

    Consider Having an "Affirmation Jar" in Your Home

    Affirmations are positive sentences that you read to yourself each morning to start the day. Some people find a daily positive reminder very helpful in setting goals and expectations for how they’ll handle the day. This is something your entire family could do together by writing affirmations on paper to put into the jar. Examples of affirmations are, “I can do it,” “I can handle whatever comes,” or “I am making positive decisions in my life.” On your way out the door, take an affirmation out of the jar, read it, and encourage your teen to do the same. At night, you could all talk about your affirmation and how you brought it into your behavior that day.

  • Social Awareness

    Spend Quality Time With Your Teen

    Your teen’s social world evolves during high school, and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Try to talk frequently and honestly about your teen’s feelings and friendships. Whether it’s at the dinner table or right before bedtime, have frequent chats with your teen about her social life and her role and responsibilities as a friend. Listen patiently to her stories and concerns. Try not to be too judgmental while having these discussions, as this can cause her to withhold information or not want to talk about these topics. You may want to ask if she’d like your opinion before offering it if you want to keep the doors of communication open.

    Help Your High-Schooler Come Up With Rules for Her Social Life

    As your teen becomes more independent, it’s important to give her some say over her social life and activities. Have a discussion with her about her privileges, responsibilities, and curfew, and work together to set rules and consequences for breaking them. This will help your teen feel included and invested in these important social decisions. It can also help guide her behavior once she ventures out on her own.

    Encourage Your Teen's Interests and Future Career Goals

    Many teens have passions and pursuits that are important to them, and it’s helpful to encourage your teen to find what her “thing” is. Ask about her interests and about potential careers related to her passions. If your teen has a hard time defining her interests, help her by pointing out her talents and how she can use them in her future career. Once you identify your teen’s interests, you may want to help her find a mentor in that particular field or encourage her to participate in groups or activities that foster her talents. If your teen is the first in the family to go to college, you may also want to find a mentor who has gone through the college process to help prepare her for this important life transition.

    Talk to Your Teen About Bullying

    Bullying is a growing concern in the United States, as children and teens are experiencing and engaging in this negative behavior at alarming rates. This is especially true in high school level, where cliques, belonging and popularity are major aspects of a teen’s social world. A recent study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that nearly 1 in 3 students report being bullied during the school year. Bullying can take many forms, like name-calling, physical harassment, or excluding others, and social media has opened up new avenues for this type of harassment.  Often, teens don’t recognize that their own behavior could be considered bullying. Talk to your teen about bullying and ask her if she has been victimized or if she has seen it happen to others. Discuss her feelings about bullying and ask her to consider how it makes others feel. By reminding her of the harmful effects of bullying, you are helping to provide your teen with the knowledge and courage that she will need to stand up against this behavior in the future.   

    Practice Respectful Assertiveness

    Education consultant Jennifer Miller recommends talking to your teen about ways that she can be assertive in different situations. Miller says that when teens are faced with criticism from peers, they may be tempted to run away or issue a hurtful comment in return. You can help your teen come up with assertive responses like, “I am not interested in that opinion,” to help prepare her to deal with these types of confrontations. You can also try to notice when your teen is assertive. For example, it could be that she’s asserting her opinion to you. Point out those circumstances and encourage her to use the same kind of tone and confidence in communicating with peers, and particularly with those who are bullying.

    Discuss Cyber Bullying With Your Teen

    Online bullying occurs frequently in high school, and it’s good to talk to your teen about the importance of being kind to others online. For instance, there have been many news reports about teens who have harmed themselves because of comments on social media. Tell her that she should not bully others online or go along with the crowd when someone is being made fun of online. You can also ask her if she’s ever experienced cyber bullying and how it made her feel. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam adds that if your teen is reluctant to talk about herself or friends, you may want to bring up stories about cyber bullying from the news, which tend to present both sides of the situation, and are not always so black-and-white in terms of right and wrong. She suggests that you ask your teen what she thinks about these news stories, as teens know more than their parents about what goes on at school, and it is empowering to acknowledge her expertise in these matters.

  • Relationship Skills

    Discuss the Dos and Don'ts of Relationships

    Your teen’s social world is evolving during the high school years, and it’s good to talk to her regularly about her friendships and possible romantic partners. Ask your teen about her relationships frequently and talk to her about the qualities that make up a strong and healthy bond, such as respect, trust, empathy and kindness. For example, you may want to inquire about what her friends are like, or about the new teen in her class she just brought into her social circle. You can ask her questions like, “What do your friends do after school?” You can use this as an opportunity to get her to open up about her dating life. For instance, you may want to ask her, “Who do you want to go to the school dance with?” or “Is there anyone in your class that you like hanging out with?” Education consultant Jennifer Miller adds that you shouldn’t be too discouraged if your teen doesn’t want to share right away. If you’ve opened the door to a discussion, then she may come back when she is ready to talk about it with you. Miller recommends finding online resources, like the Mayo Clinic’s website, that can help you discuss sexuality and focus on the facts. For more ideas on what to say, visit our conversation starters guide.

    Discuss Jealousy and Envy in Friendships

    Talk to your teen about jealousy and envy and how these emotions can present themselves in her interactions and relationships. Explain that no one is better than anyone else, and jealousy and envy can only ruin friendships. You can also give her suggestions on how she can cope with these negative tendencies. For example, if she feels jealous, you can ask her to take a deep breath and consider the other person’s intentions before jumping to conclusions.

    Use the "Sandwich" Technique

    Author and consultant Faye de Muyshondt suggests employing this technique when teaching your high-schooler how to approach certain conversations, especially when providing feedback or addressing an issue. In basic terms, this method involves “sandwiching” the feedback or problem in between a compliment and a positive conclusion. For example, if your teen feels that a friend treated her unkindly, she could start with a positive comment like, “I value your friendship, and you’re always so nice to me,” then continuing with, “The other day when we were at lunch, you yelled at me and that made me sad.” This can be followed with, “I really want to keep being friends, so next time, just tell me if I’m doing something that bothers you and we can fix it before we start yelling at each other.”

    Talk About the Qualities Needed in the Workplace

    Your teen will be entering the workforce before you know it, and you can help prepare her by talking about her interests and jobs that may involve them. Discuss these options and the people skills that she would need. If she’s interested in a journalism career, you can tell her that she will need to be empathetic, to collaborate with others and to work well under pressure. You may want to explain to her that in any job she will need to deal with different personalities. You can also share your own work experiences with her and describe how you have dealt with some of your office relationships. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis adds that you may want to invite friends who are in career fields that interest your teen to dinner to talk to her about what she should expect.  

    Talk To Your Teen About Responsible Online Behavior

    Most teenagers use electronic devices and social media, and it’s important to teach them how to behave appropriately online. Take this as an opportunity to discuss how the digital age has improved our lives, and then remind your teen  how a person’s online footprint lives on in the virtual world, and that almost nothing can be erased once it’s posted. For example, you can talk to your teen about people who have lost their jobs because they posted something inappropriate, and tell her that many recruiters look at online profiles when making hiring decisions.

  • Responsible Decision-Making

    Talk to Your Teen About Accountability

    Accountability is an important aspect of relationships, and one of the best ways to teach your adolescent about it is to talk about the role responsibility plays in your family. At dinner time, have each member of your family talk about some of the actions they take that demonstrate responsibility and then discuss what this value means to them. Explain to your teen that people who are responsible behave in ways that make others trust them and take ownership of their actions. They also don’t make excuses for bad behavior or blame others when something goes wrong. Tell your teen that it is good to take responsibility for his actions and that by shifting the blame or playing the victim he is only contributing to the problem.

    Discuss Adult Responsibilities With Your Teen

    Your teen will be heading out into the real world before you know it, and it’s crucial to prepare her for the decisions she will make once she’s an adult. One of the most relevant topics to cover is finances. Explain to your teen how important it is to set a monthly budget and use it as a guide when paying bills, buying groceries and spending on clothes, outings or gifts. You may want to help her come up with a budget and talk to her about ways that she can make responsible decisions about money. This is also a good time to have a discussion about paying for college and about the responsibilities of student loans. You can use this as an opportunity to talk about financial aid and scholarship options and have her start researching funding sources for college. The more you speak to your teen about money and the expectations of adulthood, the better-prepared she will be to make responsible decisions about these things in the future.

    Compliment Your High-Schooler's Decision-Making and Support His Choices

    High-schoolers are making many choices and may not consult you on everything. By supporting your teen’s growing independence and the choices that he makes, you’re giving him more confidence and showing that you trust him. The more you give your child room for his own choices, the more he’ll be able to trust and believe in himself.

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Enter your notes in the space below, then print out and take to your parent-teacher conference.

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