When your middle school student is at school, he's surrounded with opportunities for both positive and negative peer relationships in the classroom, on the playground and even on the walk home after school. Help your middle school child learn how to foster positive relationships with classmates to help him earn friendships and contribute to a healthier and safer school environment.
Similarities and Differences
Help your middle school child and her peers get to know each other and develop friendships by learning about what they have in common and their differences. You can incorporate a learning exercise the next time your child has a group of friends over to your house. Get the kids to sit in a circle and have your child start by telling the group something about herself, such as her favorite color, sport or animal. Encourage the group to speak up when they share a common interest and ask questions about differences. If your child’s favorite animal is a dog, that’s a fairly common interest. However, if her favorite animal is a skunk, that might be a less ordinary choice, creating curiosity in the group and opening up a dialogue for your child to share her reasons. You can talk to your child’s teacher about incorporating the activity into the classroom or encourage your child to give the activity a try on her own with peers on the playground.
Recognize Positive Characteristics
You can help foster positive interactions with peers by helping him and his peers focus on the positive characteristics of each child rather than negative attributes. You can have your child complete this activity on her own or use it when you have a group of peers at your house. Give each child a sheet of paper and have them make a list of each child in their grade or class. Beside each child’s name have the kids write at least three positive characteristics about each one. The objective of the activity is to have your child thinking beneath the surface and realizing that everyone in his class -- friend or foe -- has good qualities, which are better things to talk about than the negative, gossipy talk that can interfere with and destroy peer relationships.
Act it Out
Use role-playing to introduce your child to new ways to interact with peers. If a bully is in her class, she can practice responding to the bully with you, helping her to feel more confident in the real-life circumstance and providing you with an opportunity to give feedback about positive or negative responses. If she feels caught between two friends, each wanting to be her best friend, let her work out the problem with you through role-playing, trying on each of the actor’s roles to see the circumstance from various perspectives. If she's uncomfortable meeting new people or starting a conversation with a new student in class, help her act out different introductions until she feels comfortable and teach her about the importance of eye contact, shaking hands, being respectful and speaking politely.
Give your child a visual representation of positive peer relationships and interactions by helping him make a collage to hang on his wall. You can rummage through photo albums, magazines and newspapers, searching for pictures and phrases that deal with friendship, kindness and other good attributes in peer relationships. You can cut out pictures of people shaking hands or kids sharing toys, and phrases or words, such as “Embrace Uniqueness," “Respect” and “Compassion.” To highlight the difference between positive and negative relationships, you can divide the collage into two sections, and have him fill one side with the pictures and phrases he finds of positive traits and fill the other with negative ones, such as a child being left out on the playground or gossipers and bullies snickering at other children.
- Promoting a Successful Transition to Middle School by Patrick Akos, et al.
- From Santa to Sexting: Helping Your Child Safely Navigate Middle School and Shape the Choices that Last a Lifetime; Brenda Hunter, et al.
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images