Middle School Column: Parents, Please Remain the Voice of Reason

By Gordon Beinstein

This will likely come as a shock to none of you, but your middle school-aged children can be unreasonably emotional.  You likely had the pleasure of noticing this trait in your child when you failed to purchase the right shoes, asked them to do something they feel is unjust (like load the dishwasher, pick clothes up off the floor or eat their vegetables), or simply said ‘good morning’.  Their hormones are in overdrive and the result is a roller coaster of emotions, which are often disjointed from the reality of the situation. I am asking that on the off chance this describes your child, that you serve as the voice of reason in these instances. The last thing your pubescent child needs is for their parent to validate their irrationality…they have their 12-year-old friends for that.  What your child requires from you is to help them to gain perspective. 

Why are you getting these words of wisdom from your child’s principal?  Because I am asking that you not overreact to your child’s irrational outbursts when it comes to school issues.  While I understand how an unexpected schedule change or a last-minute homework assignment, or an issue with a “frenemy” at a lunch table may put your child into a tailspin, it shouldn’t have the same impact on you, the rational adult.  Do not call the school in the moment, feeling you need to save your child and ‘be on their side’ from what is often a non-issue. Help them to perspective-take. Even better, assist them in ways to address the perceived problem themselves. 

I ask that you not interpret this column as a message of apathy on our part.  We are there for you and your child when there are issues that truly require adult intervention.  That is why we need your help determining what those big issues really are.

Thank you and good luck!

Some further pieces of advice from the mental health professionals in our building, of which I am clearly not one!

Gordon Beinstein is currently in his 32nd year as a middle school educator (and he still can’t get out of 8th grade!).  This is his seventh year as the principal of Western Middle School and was recently named the 2019 Connecticut Association of Schools Principal of the Year.

1. Children learn emotional regulation from us.  Kids won’t always do what we say, but they will always, eventually, do what we do. If parents indulge in throwing their own tantrums, so will their children. If we can stay calm, they learn that it’s not actually an emergency when they get upset, and they learn to calm themselves.

2. The emotional safety we create for our children is exactly what allows them to heal, grow and thrive. Like us, children WANT to feel happy and connected, but sometimes their fear or anger overwhelms them.  Our calm gives them a path back to loving connection. When they feel better, they do better.

3. When we provide a calm “holding environment” for our children, they feel safe enough to experience their emotions, which is what allows those big feelings to begin to evaporate. Kids learn that feelings are just part of being human, and they don’t have to fear them — OR act on them.

4. When children respect us and feel understood by us, they want to follow our lead. They learn that they don’t always get what they want, but they get something better — a parent who understands, even when they say no. So the child becomes more open to our guidance, more likely to follow our rules.

5. Children are sensitive barometers of our moods and tensions. If we have an unresolved issue, we can count on them to subconsciously pick up on it and act out. So very often, when we work on our own issues, we find that our child’s behavior changes–even without our directly addressing it!

6. When we respond differently, so does our child. Remember, it’s always your child’s action + your response that = the outcome. When we get triggered and react without thinking, we escalate the storm. When we respond more mindfully and connect with our child, we settle the storm. Less drama, more love.