Beyond back-to-school basics: Are you meeting your pre-teen’s emotional needs?

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - If you're the parent of a kid between the ages of 9 and 11, your child's growing independence from the family and heightened interest in friends is likely obvious.  Healthy relationships are important to your child's development, but peer pressure can become a daunting reality during this time -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am in fact the parent of a child entering middle school this year. My daughter will not only be ushered into a new echelon of academia, as it were, but she's also starting 6th grade at a new school.

Pause for emphasis and a chance for this dad to hyperventilate.

It doesn't take a lot of in-depth research or social media engagement to know I'm not alone in my pre-teen parent apprehensions.  In a time of transition and new milestones that can be as stressful on parents as it is their students -- this is certainly not the time for us to go on parenting auto-pilot.

We've all been there: a new environment; new faces; the new experiences that come with leaving elementary school and becoming a 'big kid.'

We all went through that obligatory awkward, angsty phase of pre-teendom and, lo and behold -- we made it out alright -- right?

As parents we worry about school supplies and clothes; new shoes and new schedules; bigger campuses and heftier workloads -- but WHNT News 19 took action to go beyond back-to-school basics, speaking with a Huntsville child psychologist about the emotional considerations you should be making about your child ahead of that first ringing bell of early August.

"This is one of the places in our lives that is a big transition," explains Certified Clinical Counselor David Barnhart. "And there's a movement toward thing kind of flowing easily in grade school before you get to middle school, so there's much more intensity in terms of what you have to learn and a greater demand on attention and concentration as you go through the day."

Dr. Barnhart helped us compile the top three emotional needs you should be addressing with your adolescent child:

3.) BE YOU.

During a time when peer pressure to conform can be at its peak, Barhart recommends instilling confidence at home.

"It's important for kids to know that, first of all, you respect who they are and one way of communicating that is to emphasize what those strengths are that they have -- and then to say this is really what carries you in life."

2.) BE NICE.

No 'mean girls,' no bullying boys, please.

It's undeniable: school kids separate into cliques by default -- 'birds of a feather,' after all. But no one likes to be bullied or made fun of.  Parents can help ensure their child isn't part of the problem.

"If we are kind, if we're agreeable then we'll tend to be liked by people," Barnhart advises. "They'll tend to work to please us as opposed to fight against what our ideas might happen to be."

1.) BE OPEN.

Dr. Barnhart says it's never too late to learn to effectively communicate with your child.  An ongoing, open and honest dialogue he says can mean the difference between a meaningful or superficial parent/child relationship. But, Barnhart says: save the lecturing for the classroom.

"If your child is going to talk with you, you have to first of all be a good listener," stresses Barnhart. "We jump into a lecture mode or an instructional mode right away kids will sometimes feel defensive and you'll get comments like, 'I know, I know' -- so you have to be vulnerable yourself."

Barnhart says what's more important is for children to understand they're going to be heard and listened to. He says parents have to be able to be empathetic and able to self-disclose. He says often parents get a much more desirable response from their kids when questions aren't as focused on accountability or the completion of a specific task.

"If you're vulnerable; if you're willing to open up then your children will be more willing to open up with you," notes Barnhart.

Click here for more positive parenting tips.

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