Middle school is a time of incredible growth and development, growing independence and myriad opportunities to test out new identity and values. It is a challenging time, too, with many changes, social, physical and emotional occurring simultaneously, sometimes three times a day! When adults reflect on their own middle school days, more often than not, there is a small shudder and a strong affirmation that they would never go back. But what often stands out in our society as a time of turmoil and struggle is really a tremendous opportunity for our children to discover themselves in the wider world.
The last days of elementary school fly by with projects, graduations and lots of teacher hugs. Then fall is here again, and suddenly there may be new halls, multiple classes and a complicated array of unspoken social expectations that can weigh heavily on a child’s heart.
As a parent, there are a few ways you can prepare your child to find success and positive personal growth despite some difficult days.
1. Get Involved
Especially if middle school means a new building, the stress of the first day can seem almost insurmountable. But the easiest way to help with this particular challenge is to get your child involved in clubs or sports that often start weeks before school. They will walk through the doors already knowing their way around the building and also knowing a few friendly faces!
2. Executive Functioning
One of the most challenging logistical changes which occurs in the transition to middle school is often the addition of multiple teachers and having to negotiate the hallway between classes. Most middle schools afford students individual lockers which may, or may not, be located close to their core classes. But going from one room and a cubby to seven rooms and a locker can be incredibly disruptive to students who struggle with organization.
Let your child tell you what their plan is to stay organized and prepared from class to class. Most middle school teachers spend time training 6th (or sometimes 5th) graders on how to set up their binders, folders and supplies. Do a weekly backpack check for the first few months to make sure that they are sticking to that plan.
The easiest way to reduce day-to-day stress for a student who is nervous about a new place is to help them feel prepared and ready to besuccessful in every class.
Social stress is the big one during this time of life. The childhood friendships which seemed so constant are now under the duress of hormones and peer pressure like never before. Some students start to feel overwhelmed with uncertainty about who they are and what they should do at any given moment, and this leads to a wave of emotions that need an outlet.
All too often, parents want to fix all their children’s problems by offering the right advice, or swooping in to protect them from experiencing this discomfort. But this kind of protective behavior often leads to more insecurity on the part of the child, afraid they aren’t ‘doing it right.’
To help your child deal with these overwhelming feelings: be quiet and listen. Even if they don’t say much at first. When they know they are loved, and supported, they will talk when they need to. Don’t offer judgement or even advice unless asked for. Give them a safe space, a snack, and maybe even a hug on those hard days.
4. Model Kindness and Respect
Actions speak so much louder than words, and even at an age when young adults roll their eyes and try not to be seen with their parents in public, they are still watching. Children who do not have positive role models, parents or adults in their lives who treat other people as though they have value, are more likely to engage in bullying behavior.
Show them how to respect themselves by not cutting down yourself or others, even in jest. This kind of positive modeling allows them to find value in themselves.
5. Support their Teachers
Young people are very adept at sensing when there is tension in a relationship. If they sense that their parents do not respect their school or their teachers, they may play this tension to avoid consequences and hard work. Show them that you are a united front with the high expectations of their teachers by staying in communication with their instructors and being actively engaged in school activities whenever possible.
Middle school is not easy, but through struggle, we discover who we really are, and your son or daughter is ready to meet these challenges with your support.
Please contact us with more questions about what we can do together to support your child through this transitional time.