Raising Teen Girls
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Insights into the mental health and well-being of teen girls...

Middle School and Emotions

Preparing for Middle School might be the scariest parenting phase!!!  During this time you are freaking out and she is really freaking out.  There are so many unknowns.

You hear the horror stories and sometimes they really are true.  Your sweet baby girl who thinks you can do no wrong and are AMAZING can literally wake up as a different person.  She talks different, walks different and thinks VERY different.

Suddenly you are an idiot and know nothing.  Your presence triggers irritability.  Her fuse is a lot shorter and her back-talk has skyrocketed.  Sometimes everything is a challenge and fight.  You may be dealing with this every day or on occasion but rest assured you will deal with it.

When I work with girls and young women I always ask when their emotional difficulties started.  Almost always the answer is 7th grade.  Most often this is true but 7th grade is when they really begin to notice so they are more likely to say 7th grade.  Middle school can be rough. 

If you don’t know what is normal for her in middle school it can be overwhelming and confusing.  Learning to manage your expectations is critical in building a relationship with her in the teen years. 

Why is she so emotional??????

This is one of the most significant changes for her and she is not prepared for it, you probably aren’t either.  She is also not capable of understanding what exactly is happening to her because of the changes in her brain.  If you have not watched the Disney movie Inside Out make sure you do.  The movie does a great job of showing the change of emotions leading up to the middle school years.

She now has an ability to feel on a level that she never has before (it wasn't possible due to her brain development) and for girls who are sensitive to emotion it can be very painful. Painful emotions cause behavioral problems, sometimes extreme.

Expect...

  • more anger & irritability
  • over-reactions and dramatic responses
  • her to not be able to tell you what she is feeling because she can't verbalize it
  • to hear "I don't know" a lot
  • crying... a lot more of it
  • attitude
  • a need for increased privacy to deal with emotions
  • going to her friends to solve problems and deal with feelings

 The key is not to over-react to it. THIS IS SO HARD!!!!!!   You will have to learn to manage your emotions in a whole new way during this time. If you have to get help to deal with your own emotions do it!  You will have a much better journey through the teen years if you can learn to manage your own because she will trigger you like never before.

If you react to everything she does you will be exhausted!!!

What can you do?

Grace - give her extra grace during these years and yourself.  99% of the time she doesn’t mean what she is saying or how she is reacting.  There are so many social stresses and you can be the safe zone she needs to let it all out. 

Put it into words – you want to give her grace but you also want to improve her emotional intelligence so help her verbalize the feelings.  Put them into words.  This may require you to listen more and help her work through it but if you can give her a vocabulary for the feelings it will help reduce the drama (somewhat) and help her learn to tolerate the emotion.  Tell her what you think she is feeling so she can figure it out.  "It seems like you are embarrassed?  hurt? sad?"

Be the dumping ground - Girls will often have several emotional triggers throughout the school day (that she doesn’t deal with and bottles up) and then comes home and unloads them on you.  Let her do this.  She needs the space to blow-up and vent.  It isn’t about you.  Her intense emotion is about brain chemistry and social pressure.  If you notice a frequent, consistent pattern then there might be more serious problems and she may need to get some help to deal with her emotions but typically it is very normal.  How parents react to it makes it worse and often makes it last a lot longer.  Just listen.

Give her space – this is a delicate balance of giving her privacy and space to work through her emotional changes and leaning in when she is getting stuck or it’s too complicated.  These years take a lot of observation on your part and noticing.  This is NOT the time to check out.  Middle school requires parents to be more alert just in a new way.  It’s hard for all and a learning process.

Talk to your friends – I think the middle school years are CRITICAL for getting support from other moms and families.  It’s too easy to keep it to yourself and not talk about what is happening with your kid but the truth is you need it more then ever.  Find a few people who have kids around the same age and commit to helping each other. 

Middle school doesn't have to be so bad but it is very normal to have a lot of ups and downs.  She is experiencing so much change in her brain that she often can't keep up and is really confused.  She needs to know you are for her not against her even though at times it might seem like you are her enemy.  Do what it takes to communicate that are her greatest ally!!

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