Q: How can I help my soon-to-be middle school child adjust to adolescence?

A: Just when we start to figure out effective parenting techniques, the onset of adolescence makes a lot of what we do as parents obsolete. If our parenting and discipline strategies do not evolve with our children’s development, we quickly find ourselves battling with them seemingly all the time. To understand why, we must first understand the key developmental task of adolescence: individuation. This is our child’s transformation from being dependent on us to becoming a self-sufficient individual. This process begins at the end of elementary school and continues into young adulthood. It includes profound emotional, social, physical, hormonal and neurological changes. No wonder our child suddenly becomes such a handful!

The trick is to support this process instead of fighting it. More specifically, consider the following suggestions:

• Honor the transition: Create opportunities to celebrate this monumental shift in your child’s life by acknowledging it through discussion, ritual and recognition.
• Talking with instead of talking to: Like it or not, the days of lecturing are over. It’s time to start listening more than talking.
• Use empowerment strategies: When conflicts arise, look to your child to contribute to the solutions. Encourage your child to have a voice in the discipline plan.
• Join the experiment: As scary as it may seem, experimentation is also part of normal adolescent development. When appropriate, allow for short-term negotiated agreements that give your child more control over his/her life. If the experiment fails, process that together and revise your plan.
• Shift from control to advice: Your advice will prove valuable for the rest of their lives. By making this shift now, it is much more likely to be considered in the future.
• Express feelings of pride and love; While adolescents may act like they don’t care, don’t be fooled. They need your positive feedback more than ever.

Parenting an adolescent can feel an overwhelming and, at times, impossible task. By using effective strategies and hanging in there, your child will successfully come out the other side. And so will you!