It’s not your imagination; your middle schooler is acting differently. It’s their brains going through some big changes. Essentially the brain is “rewiring” itself, making your tween and teen prone to emotional outburst, disorganization, recklessness, and poor judgment. This is also a time to impart to them that their minds are powerful and prized possessions that can grow stronger and more valuable if they work it out.

Here are five ways to teach your older child to keep working on her brain “muscle”:

  1. Explain the brain

    Talk with your child about the science of the brain. Explain that her brain grows throughout life — the more she challenges herself, the more her brain will grow.

  2. Keep trying new things, like babies

    Explain that no one starts out knowing everything. Use babies as a way to explain this point. When they’re born, babies can’t talk. But as they get older and keep trying new things, they learn how to speak, walk, and do hundreds of new things.

  3. Work for smarts and success

    Many people (including plenty of grown-ups!) think that people are just born smart. But “smarts” are less about the brains you’re born with and more about the hard work you put into developing your brain. Explain to your child that to be a success in school and throughout life, you have to work for it — often very hard. To get your child thinking about what it takes to be a success at school, ask questions like, “What did you learn?” instead of “What grade did you get?” This will help your child focus on the fact that through great effort, comes great success.

  4. Hard work leads to improvement

    In middle school, as work gets harder, many kids start pulling away from school. They don’t want to work hard or are scared to, and it is a way to rebel from their parents. So start now by teaching them that hard work is a chance for them to learn, grow, and become better at something that’s important to them (sports, music, school … whatever it may be).

  5. Make a plan

    If your child has a big challenge or goal she wants to reach, help her make a plan. Talk through, and even write down, how she can achieve that goal. You can print out this Rewards Chart to encourage mapping out steps to take towards success. and put it on the ‘fridge.