Supporting Social & Emotional Development in Middle Schoolers

Fostering social and emotional development in your middle schooler is incredibly important. Read some expert tips on how to help your child.


Self-awareness is knowing your emotions, strengths and challenges, and how your emotions affect your behavior and decisions.

Try to talk with your child about their 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.

Be careful not to tell your child how they feel.

For example, you may want to say, "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 active very fidgety when you are trying to sit down and study" instead of "I can’t believe you aren’t nervous about that test."

Share personal stories to build your child’s self-awareness.

You can say, "I just want to let you know that I’m here for you, and I’ve gone through similar experiences when I was in middle school, so I understand what you are going through. If you ever need to talk about anything, I will be here."


Self-management is controlling emotions and the behaviors they spark in order to overcome challenges and pursue goals.

Remind your middle-schooler that there are consequences to their actions.

When your child has calmed down from an outburst, you may want to say, "Slamming doors, yelling, or acting out against family members or friends is not proper behavior. When you yell, you’re scaring your little brother, and when you talk back to me, it hurts my feelings. Can you please talk to me and tell me what’s bothering you?"

Set clear expectations and boundaries for your child and stick to them.

When enforcing a rule about homework, you can say, "I would like it if you could try to finish your homework before you play any video games, talk on the phone or text with friends. These are the rules, and if you don’t follow them, there will be consequences and you will lose some privileges. What do you think about this?"

Social Awareness

Social awareness is understanding and respecting the perspectives of others, and applying this knowledge to social interactions with people from diverse backgrounds.

Nurture your teen’s empathy.

If your middle-schooler is nervous about making friends,you can say, "I remember when I went to middle school, my best friend from elementary school started hanging out with new friends, and I felt left out. Don’t worry, many of your classmates are going through the same challenges. Why don’t you try talking to someone new, or join a club to meet new friends?"

You can talk to your teen about the importance of kindness by saying,

"Have you ever heard about karma? You get good karma by doing good things for others and treating them how you would like to be treated. Have you done something kind and helpful for others lately? How did that make you feel?"


The ability to interact meaningfully with others and to maintain healthy relationships with diverse individuals and groups contributes to overall success.

Talk to your teen regularly about their friends by asking questions like,

"Have you made any new friends in school? I know it may be hard to transition to a new school, but there are a lot more people you can be friends with. Why don’t you try to talk to that new exchange student in your class?"

Teach your teen about first impressions.

"How do you see yourself?", "How do you think others to see you?" and "How do you want others to see you?

How to talk about bullying:

Work together with your child on what they can say to stop the harassment and allow them to remain respectful of themselves and others. Sometimes, it’s as simple as saying, "Stop, you know you’re wrong," with some assertion. Or they can say "You know you are out of line," if the bully is harassing another person, and then your child can leave the area and tell an adult who can help the victim.

To help resolve conflicts between you and your teen as peacefully as possible, you try saying,

"I know you want to spend more time with your friends, but you haven’t been meeting your responsibilities at home. If you do your chores this week, I will let you extend your curfew by 30 minute so you can hang out with your friends more. How does that sound?"

Responsible Decision-Making

Responsible decision-making is the ability to make choices that are good for you and for others. It is also taking into account your wishes and the wishes of others.

Talk through problems, logical consequences, and resolutions with your child.

For example, if your child is falling behind on their homework, you can say, "Why don’t you set aside time after dinner to continue working instead of hanging out at your friend Jenny’s house tonight?"

Support your middle-schooler even when they make decisions you don’t agree with.

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?"

Social & Emotional Development

Research shows that those with higher social-emotional skills have better attention skills and fewer learning problems, and are generally more successful in academic and workplace settings. Like any math or English skills, these skills can be taught and grow over time.

Explore Social & Emotional Development