As middle school students begin to form close relationships with their peers (and sometimes even romantic relationships), it’s important for them to understand what healthy relationships look like and how best to communicate effectively with others.
In this post, let’s go over some tips for middle school counselors to help students develop these crucial relationship skills.
First, let’s start with a definition:
Defining healthy relationships for a middle schooler:
A healthy relationship is one that is built on respect, trust, and open communication. This is true for all ages, but It’s important for middle school students to understand that in a healthy relationship, both parties feel heard and valued, and there is no room for manipulation or coercion.
If a student is unsure if their relationship is healthy, they can ask themselves if they feel comfortable being themselves or do they have to pretend to do and like things they don’t actually like, if they feel safe and respected, and if they can openly talk and communicate with their friend(s).
Tips for effective communication for middle school students:
Effective communication is key to any healthy relationship. Middle school students can benefit from learning how to actively listen, express their own needs and boundaries, and handle conflicts in a healthy way.
Encourage students to use “I” statements when expressing their feelings, and to try to find a compromise or solution when conflicts arise. It’s also a good opportunity to teach your students that sometimes a mediator (such as their counselor) is a good option for bridging communication issues.
Setting boundaries and respecting others’ boundaries:
Boundaries are an important part of any healthy relationship. It’s important for middle school students to understand that they have the right to say no and to set limits on what they are comfortable with in a relationship. It’s also important for them to respect the boundaries of others. Encourage students to communicate their boundaries clearly and to listen to their partner’s boundaries as well.
Dealing with conflict:
Conflict is a natural part of any relationship, but it’s important for middle school students to learn how to handle it in a healthy way. Encourage students to take a step back, cool off, and approach the conflict with an open mind and a willingness to listen to their partner’s perspective. Encourage them to try to find a compromise or solution that works for both parties.
The importance of seeking help from trusted adults or a counselor if needed:
If a student is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, it’s important for them to seek help from a trusted adult, a teacher or a counselor. Use small group and classroom discussions to encourage students to speak up and seek support if they are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in a relationship. Additionally, make it clear that if a student is aware of a peer in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, they can also seek you out to help their friend.
Tips to help middle schools build and maintain positive relationships:
Middle school kids are notoriously self-centered—this is a common part of their development. But, there are several ways to help middle school students build and maintain positive relationships with their peers.
Encourage them to be kind, respectful, and considerate of others, and to try to see things from their friend’s perspective. Encourage them to be open and honest in their communication and to listen actively to their friends.
Some strategies to help middle schoolers be less self-centered and build stronger relationships include:
- Model the behavior you want to see: Students are more likely to behave in a certain way if they see the adults around them doing the same. So, be sure to set a good example for your students by being kind, respectful, and considerate yourself.
- Use classroom discussions to promote empathy: Encourage your students to try to see things from their friends’ perspectives by discussing real-life situations and asking them how they would feel if they were in that situation.
- Encourage active listening: Help your students practice being present and attentive when someone else is speaking. Encourage them to make eye contact, ask clarifying questions, and repeat back what they heard to show that they were listening and trying to understand.
- Reward kind behavior: When you see students being kind, respectful, and considerate of others, be sure to praise them and give them positive reinforcement for their behavior. This can help encourage them to continue behaving in this way.
- Use role-playing activities: Have students practice responding to different social situations in a kind, respectful, and considerate way through role-playing activities. There are many tools and resources for classroom discussions that lay out scenarios to help students learn positive the positive traits expressed in good relationships.
The role of online communication in relationships and tips for ensuring safe, online interactions:
Digital communication, such as texting, messaging, and especially social media, plays a significant role in many middle school students’ relationships and social interactions.
While online communication can be a great way for students to stay connected and communicate with their peers, it’s important for them to understand how to use these tools responsibly and respectfully.
One of the main challenges of digital communication is that it can be easy for misunderstandings to occur. Without the benefit of nonverbal cues like facial expressions and tone of voice, the meaning of a message can be misinterpreted. Encourage middle school students to be mindful of this and to be as clear and direct as possible in their online communication.
It’s also important for students to understand that online communication is not private, and that once something is posted online, it can be difficult to control who sees it. Encourage students to think twice before posting anything online and to consider how it might be perceived by others. Remind them that it’s not appropriate to share personal information or images of themselves or others without permission.
In addition, encourage students to be mindful of their digital footprint and to be aware that their online behavior can have real-life consequences. Remind them to treat others online with the same respect and kindness that they would in person.
Overall, the key to navigating online interactions in a healthy way is to be mindful of how your words and actions might be perceived by others, to communicate clearly and respectfully, and to be aware of the potential risks and consequences of posting online.
How to support and be an ally to others in unhealthy or abusive relationships:
It’s important for middle school students to learn how to recognize the signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship and how to be an ally to their friends who may be in one. Encourage students to speak up and offer support to their friends in need, and importantly to seek help from a trusted adult if they are concerned about someone they care about.
Developing healthy relationship skills is crucial for middle school students as they navigate the complex social world of adolescence. By understanding what healthy relationships look like, how to communicate effectively, and how to set and respect boundaries, students can build positive, supportive relationships that will serve them well in the future.