Inside: Middle school is hard on both the kids and the parents. Here are some reasons why, and some steps to help your student succeed in these challenging years.
I’ll be honest, once my kids were sleeping through the night, potty trained and past separation anxiety I thought the hard part of parenting was over.
I mean it absolutely feels like if you can survive the sleep deprivation that comes with those early years, you can survive anything.
Then along comes middle school–and you realize things are going to get harder.
At least that was the case for me this fall when my son headed off for 6th grade.
Let’s be honest, these middle school years are just a messy, confusing, awkward in-between place filled with hormones and homework and drama.
It can seem like overnight your sweet little girl or boy suddenly developed a different personality and you never know exactly which one is going to show up when.
Overall, about the only thing you can count on being consistent in middle school is that everything will be inconsistent.
Their interests, their friends, their motivation, their grades and even how they feel about you can change every other minute.
They are going to make choices that you do not understand and struggle like you’ve probably never seen them struggle before.
Somedays your heart will ache for them so badly that you will wish you could jump in and rescue them from it all.
Then other days you will be so frustrated with them you will want to pick up the nearest heavy object and hurl it at their head.
I know for me, it’s been driving me crazy to feel so out of control. I am exhausted.
And no, I’m not dealing with it all that well.
I want to step in and restore order or at the very least organize his backpack.
But now is the time when I need to allow my son the space to start finding his own way.
He needs to begin leading, still knowing I’m behind him to pick him up should he falter.
And yes, on occasion I’ll need to give him a gentle push or nudge back in the right direction.
Unfortunately, I think middle school may be the time in your kid’s life when you most want to give them ONE BIG SHOVE. Oh, and not just occasionally, but like daily, sometimes multiple times a day!
But I also know as parents, if we want to raise independent kids that are confident about their ability to function in the world on their own; then we have to slowly give them control over their own lives.
It’s not easy and it can feel like we’re fighting a constant battle to find just that right balance.
It’s knowing when we should back off and when we must intervene whether they like it or not.
It’s recognizing the difference between when they are going down the wrong path and when they’re simply not following the path we would have chosen.
It’s loving them enough to not always save them from their mistakes, but also not saying “I told you so” when those mistakes happen.
It’s helping and protecting the child that they still are today, while being willing to give them a shove…I mean a little push, when needed so they can become the amazing adults that you know they’re meant to be tomorrow.
But most importantly, it’s remembering while all this is going on that you and your child are always on the same side.
And yes, you’ll both survive these middle school years too.
Five tips to helping your child succeed in middle school
With all the craziness and drama of middle school, what are some specific steps you can do to help get through this challenging time?
- Help them get organized. The transition from a more hands-on elementary school classroom to a more independent middle school environment can be challenging for some students. Knowing how to use a calendar and keep a schedule is going to be essential. Many schools these days provide calendars for students even in elementary school, so you’re child might already have a jump on this. But if one isn’t supplied, you want to get your 5th grader one. It can be paper, a wall calendar they hang in their room, digital if they have a cell phone – whatever works! Start having them enter in important dates, like book reports and exams. Additionally, make sure they’re also recording their extra-curricular activities and special events like Birthdays. This will get them in the habit of maintaining their own schedule and staying on top of their academic and social commitments. There are also some great organizational apps they can use.
- Time management. Reminding your middle schooler to check their calendar lets them keep track of their school and social activities, but it doesn’t teach them how to balance all those different activities. That is the art of time management and as they head into middle school, it is the ideal time for them to begin working on this skill. Start asking your tween how long it takes to do certain activities and mark that off in their planner so they can start understanding how much time they will have to do what they need (including school work, chores and extracurriculars) and schedule out some free time so they know that’s important as well.
- Encourage healthy risk-taking. Oftentimes when we think of risks for big kids in a negative way, While some risks, such as experimenting with drugs, stunts that can result in severe injury or harm, engaging with people you don’t know online, etc., can give parents grey hairs, that doesn’t mean all risk-taking is bad during the tween and teen years. Middle school is a great time for kids to engage in healthy risk-taking, such as trying new activities or classes, letting them be more independent, or doing something to push their physical limits (rock climbing, hiking, etc.) But the beautiful thing is this: when a young person takes a chance, they often learn so much about themselves.
- Stay connected. For some kids, middle school can be a time when they start to break away from their parents and desire more autonomy, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on staying connected to your middle schooler and family time. While we may no longer be the center of their universe, tweens and teens still need their family as a foundation. Stay available and try to engage in activities that interest your kids. That means listening about their favorite YouTuber or perhaps seeing the latest Marvel movie, but trust us, it’s worth it.
- Let them fail. Middle school is the time when our children need to rely on us less and learn to be more responsible for themselves. It’s common in today’s world for parents to want to fix things for our kids. When they are little, our default mechanism is often help or rescue the. But consistently saving the day doesn’t allow our kids to experience the natural consequences of their actions. If they are regularly forgetting homework, shinguards or lunch money then it’s time they have to face the uncomfortable outcomes that result from this lack of personal accountability. Receiving a zero on an assignment or being benched for soccer practice isn’t going to keep your child from a bright future, but relying on mom to cover mistakes on a regular basis will.