Any parent who has survived the middle school years will assure you that you can navigate them, too. Although the honeymoon period of elementary school is over and middle school comes with ample trials and tribulations for most kids, try not to expect the worst. Parents who welcome the challenges of middle school as opportunities for growth will be still be smiling by the time they attend the eighth grade promotion ceremony.
Expect your child to face and overcome hurdles in middle school. Middle school is supposed to be about making mistakes and bouncing back from disappointments. Kids who navigate turbulence with spunk will mature in middle school. Kids who struggle with self-awareness and assertiveness are going to need extra support to develop skills they will need in high school.
If you want your kids to thrive in middle school, don’t leave them to their own devices. Parents who expect everything to be hunky dory all the time will likely be disappointed. Parents who think kids can figure everything out for themselves at this age with little adult supervision may want to wake up. This is middle school, the preparation for high school, which is the preparation for college, which is preparation for adulthood. Your child is going to need you each and every day.
Middle-schoolers are embarking on a two or three-year journey and they will come out the other end of the process transformed. Whether or not they are changed for the better is largely up to you, parents. Here is a list of some of the challenges middle school kids face and how tuned-in parents can help.
Expressing Individuality. At the end of the summer, sit down with your child and make a list of words that describe who he is. Do this every year before heading back to school to remind your student that he has interests and he’s allowed to like whatever he chooses. This list will evolve over the years, and that’s great, too.
Expanding Learning Abilities. Middle school is an opportunity to try new ways of learning. Kids will get to do science labs for the first time, peer edit each other’s writing, work on projects with partners or in groups. Talk to your kids about how they are adjusting to these new learning modes so you can help smooth the way.
Dealing With Social Pressures. How much social pressure exists in middle school? Tons. So role up your sleeves, parents, and always be ready to trouble-shoot. The best advice takes your child’s personality into account and eschews going along with all the crowds all the time. Middle school is a great time for kids to learn how to say, you do things your way and I’ll do things mine.
Keeping Up With School. Assignments and Deadlines. Kids tend to procrastinate. Some have trouble understanding that projects and papers must be worked on incrementally to be adequately prepared. A little bit of planning support goes a long way until dreamy tweens can get the hang of due dates.
Navigating The Online World. Your child is carrying a phone, a camera, and a computer in her pocket. Giving kids too much responsibility too soon can lead to extra expenses and shaken confidence. So trust your instincts, parents. You will know when your child is ready to embrace the job of caring for a phone.
Finding Healthy Tribes. Kids will be kids but no parent wants their child hanging out with a bunch of troublemakers. Your child’s peer group has a huge influence on his daily life. Teach your kids to choose friends wisely and to distance themselves from those who make consistently unhealthy choices.
Communicating With Teachers and Coaches. You know how to do this, but now it’s time to let your child step up and converse with authority figures. You can encourage her, confirm it’s happening, and even follow up with adults to make sure your child isn’t blowing you smoke. But let her do it or she won’t learn how.
Confronting Bullies. Not avoiding bullies. Not hiding from bullies. Not doing whatever bullies want so they won’t pick on you. Confronting bullies means being able to stand up to someone being mean to your child whether his friends will back him up or not. Let your kids know you expect them to stand up for themselves and for others in need assistance and watch them do it.
Becoming A Positive Contributor. Everyone hates substitutes. No one likes the new math teacher. That kid is so weird. But guess what, kiddo? It doesn’t matter because you are expected to be kind and respectful to everyone at your school, including teachers and substitutes. Furthermore, you should actively contribute in your classes and make positive contributions to your school on an ongoing basis.
Bouncing Back From Failure and Disappointments. Perhaps the toughest days in middle school are the not-making-the-cut days or the performing poorly on the test days or the getting sent to the principal days. How you respond to some twist on this trope is important. Kids need to process their feelings before they can bounce back and do the right thing. Be calm and patient as you help them figure it all out.
Test-driving Romantic Relationships. Some kids will dive right into relationships in middle school. Others will stay on the sidelines so they can spectate and speculate. Others may not seem interested at all. This is the beginning of practicing intimacy, so be sure to have lots of conversations with your child about the differences between healthy and unhealthy romantic relationships.
Prioritizing Needs. Kids have needs and those needs matter even when life is hectic. Maybe your daughter needs a jog bra for gym class. Maybe she needs a new notebook for algebra. Maybe she needs you to sign a field trip form and write a check. Have a regular plan-the-week meeting on the weekend to discuss what your child is going to need from you and avoid last-minute crunches that create needless stress and bickering.
Learning About The World. There is a whole wide world out there, and now your child is old enough to start learning about all of its complexities. What a great time to teach your child about respecting diversity, tolerating differences, and envisioning a more peaceful world. They can practice all of these principles right in middle school.
Remembering To Rest. Taking nice long baths with soft music and candles. Pulling the black-out curtains for a three-hour afternoon nap. A six-episode, BBC Pride And Prejudice binge-watching sessions to recover from the sniffles. Growing kids need to unwind sometimes, but they may have trouble recognizing this. When this happens, give them a nudge in a decompressing direction.
Shining Despite Speed Bumps. Guess what, parents? Your kid is going to stumble, fall, and maybe even face-plant in middle school. But he will still have plenty of shining moments, where he is ecstatic and in his element. If your child isn’t having enough moments like these, call a family meeting, put your heads together, and look for new opportunities where he is more likely to succeed.
Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina Katz is actually a bit sad that the middle school adventures are over. But she’s looking forward to the challenges that high school will bring.