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How can I help my child . . . ?

  • get/stay organized and become more responsible?
  • take initiative and develop independence, (communicate problems and ask for what they need, stay organized, and set and reach goals )?
  • better manage stress and strong emotions?

As children move through middle school and become increasingly more independent, it is important that they become more responsible too. This includes being responsible for their homework, their possessions, their behavior and their everyday choices.  They need opportunities to manage their time and organize their things so that when they get into high school and beyond, they can more easily and effectively do this for themselves. In addition, they need to be reliable and accountable for their actions.Learning these skills helps them become successful, responsible teens and young adults. 

These expectations can be challenging and stressful, especially for children with ADHD or other learning disabilities that affect focus and organization. That is why it is up to the adults in their lives to help guide them and offer support so they can develop the strategies and skills necessary to be successful. 

For middle schoolers to handle their independence and the feelings of stress and pressure that often come along with it, they need self-management skills

Self-management is also sometimes called “self-control,” or “self-regulation.” These skills help adolescents manage their own behavior effectively in different situations and include:

  • Getting and staying organized 
  • Managing time and schedules
  • Keeping up with responsibilities
  • Plan ahead and set goals for the future
  • Staying motivated through challenges and setbacks
  • Handling stress and pressure 
  • Calming down when feeling strong emotions 
  • Asking for help when needed

Self-management skills go hand in hand with self-awareness. For example, in order to calm down when feeling strong emotions (self-management), children first need to be able to :

  • identify their emotions (self-awareness)
  • recognize the signs of stress (self-awareness) and
  • know what will help them feel calm (self-awareness).

Why It Matters 

Children develop and mature at different rates. Some middle schoolers may be more than ready to juggle the more complex demands of school life like increased homework, a changing school schedule, sports and other extracurricular activities. Others may need reminders and support to stay on task and manage new demands, pressure, and responsibilities. At times, your middle schooler may reject your input and may act as though you are nagging or harassing them. At other times, they may get overwhelmed and need your help staying on track with everyday tasks. This is all part of the process of growing up and beginning to take responsibility for their own lives.

Research shows that young people with strong self-management skills 

  • do better and feel happier in school
  • manage social stress and peer relationships more effectively
  • are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college 
  • have higher income levels and fewer financial problems later in life
  • have fewer chronic health problems
  • are less likely to misuse alcohol and other drugs  

You are the most important influence on your child and on their development of critical self- management skills. Letting your child gradually handle more responsibility while encouraging them to ask for support when they need it will help them learn the skills needed to manage themselves.

Check In:

Take this brief survey to identify your child’s strengths and areas for further development in some key self-management skills.

1) When it comes to morning routines and getting ready for school (getting dressed, brushing teeth, gathering needed items, being ready to leave on time), my child: 

  1. handles simple tasks themselves without a problem.
  2. sometimes needs reminders or a little help from me.
  3. needs a lot of support getting ready and remembering what they need to do/bring.

2) When it comes to their own room and belongings, my child:

  1. keeps their stuff neat and organized.
  2. is mostly organized and cleans up when asked.
  3. is disorganized and messy and has trouble keeping track of belongings.

3) When it comes to completing school work, chores, and other responsibilities, my child:

  1. can get started when I ask them to and doesn’t need help staying on task.
  2. needs a little support and supervision to stay on track.
  3. has trouble getting things done without a lot of help and reminders.

4) When my child is doing something that is challenging or requires effort, they:

  1. stay positive, stick to it, and keep going until they finish.
  2. may act frustrated, but eventually work through it.
  3. often react negatively or give up in frustration.

5) When my child feels overwhelmed or frustrated, they usually:

  1. ask for the help they need.
  2. accept help if it’s offered.
  3. tend to complain or give up.

6) When my child gets upset or has strong emotions, they:

  1. take time to calm down and respond thoughtfully.
  2. might lose their cool at first, but calm down easily and apologize later.
  3. lose control, react angrily, or blame others.

7) When my child  gets stressed, they:

  1. use suggested strategies or activities that help them relax.
  2. don’t do anything special, but eventually get past it.
  3. have a lot of trouble coping and calming down.

Review your responses. For most middle schoolers, the answers will be a mix of As, Bs, and C,s. For example, your child  may manage their time effectively, but have trouble keeping their belongings organized or controlling their emotions when they’re stressed or overwhelmed. Or they may be able to stick to challenging tasks, but aren’t likely to ask for help when they need it. The good news is you can take steps now to help them develop stronger self-management skills!

Connect & Communicate:

Start the Conversation:

Start with observations:  “I notice that you’ve got a lot going on lately. It can be hard to stay organized when you’re really busy. What do you think might help? ”

Remind them it’s okay to ask for help: “You have a lot of responsibilities right now. Remember you can ask for help if you need it.How can I help?” 

Model your own self-control: When feeling stressed or when dealing with conflict, say “I’m going to take a few breaths and calm down before I respond to your comment.” 

Set the example:  Talk with your child about what helps you stay organized,  like entering tasks in your calendar or planner or making to-do lists. 

Hand over some responsibility: Try to identify tasks your child can start doing for themselves, whether it’s making their own breakfast or lunch, helping out with the laundry, taking out the garbage, or walking the dog. Allow them to choose, but emphasize that family members helping out is part of living together. 

Talk about the future:  “If you could become or achieve anything, what would it be?” “What are some jobs or careers you’re interested in?” Talk about how their interests connect to different jobs or careers, and help them think through the steps toward achieving their goals.

Tips for teaching your middle schooler self management skills: 


  • If you have a pet, make a list of what your child is responsible for doing.  For example, maybe they feed it, give it water and go with you when you take it for a walk.
  • Encourage your middle schooler to volunteer or get involved with community service opportunities. These are great chances for them to develop a sense of responsibility.

Time Management and Goal Setting

  • Print out a blank weekly calendar template and have your child write down their schedule, including time for homework, chores, as well as free time.(A variety of fun, customizable templates can be found here
  • Set limits on electronics. If your middle schooler has a phone, they may be unaware of how many hours they spend on social media or playing video games. Set rules to help them create healthy habits around the use of digital devices. 
  • Set a goal, make a plan, choose a reward:  Help your child choose a realistic, personal goal, for example, exercising three days a week, or practicing the piano a certain number of days. Help them identify when they’ll work on their goal and be specific about how much time they’ll spend on it. Have them choose how they’ll reward themself after they complete their goal. Check in on their progress weekly and offer encouragement. Treat them to the reward when they reach their goal.


  • Set aside time for a weekly bag clean-out. Make it a weekly habit (Sunday nights are a great time) for you and your child to organize your backpack/bag/purse together. Doing it together will make it feel like less of a chore, and you can both start the week off on a good foot. 
  • Teach them that every item has a home.  Allow them to help with ideas on how to organize their room and other shared parts of the house.  Offer to purchase items that will help them stay organized at school and at home.

Stress Management

  • Talk to your child about ways to manage their stress. Teach them strategies like taking deep breaths, counting slowly, taking a walk around the block, shooting hoops, or writing in a journal.
  • Model your own stress management.  
  • Do activities with your child like meditation, yoga or breathing techniques so that you model and teach them how to do this for themselves.

Contact & Collaborate:

Your child’s school along with local community organizations and other parents are great places to connect with for additional ways to support your child’s social development: 

  • Help your child establish a connection with their guidance counselor. Set up a meeting or reach out by phone. Make sure your child feels comfortable going to their office when they feel anxious, need help managing their workload, or navigating  social stress. 
  • Talk to your child’s doctor about any issues that arise around self-management and ask for ways of dealing with it at home.
  • Learn what your child’s school and other organizations in the local community have  to offer in terms of tutoring and homework help, as well as community service and volunteer opportunities. 
  • Join a local parenting group on social media.

Continue Learning:

Explore these resources for more ideas on how to support your teen’s development of self-management skills.

Tilt Parenting (podcast): Parenting Children with ADHD and other learning differences

ADDitude (podcast):  Practical Organizational and Time Management Skills for Middle Schoolers and Teens with ADHD

Scholastic Age-by-Age Time management (article):

John’s Hopkins Medicine (article):  Helping Kids Cope with  Stress

How to Talk to Kids about Anything (podcast):  How to Talk to Kids about Stress Management

Healthy Children (article):  The Importance of Meditation for Kids*1ndb7du*_ga*NTEzNDMzMjUuMTYzNTM0Mzk5MA..*_ga_FD9D3XZVQQ*MTYzNTM0Mzk4OS4xLjEuMTYzNTM0NDAzNS4w

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