With middle school in the rear view of my parenting journey, I have been thinking about how it was a different experience for each one of our kiddos. I can certainly see how very naive I was heading into those years where they straddled childhood and adolescence.
It’s awkward, churning with change and confusing for most. Here is what I would do differently in these three BIG years:
It may happen gradually, but then you will notice that your child is developing very new patterns. Privacy becomes important as they naturally strive for independence. This is a right and healthy development, even if it wounds a bit. Set your expectations for house rules, like we eat dinner as a family and everyone helps with preparation or cleanup. Maybe the bedroom-as-a-hideout bothers you, but it creates a safe retreat for your kiddo. Give them time alone and still ask him or her to intentionally come be with you for a bit, too. Compromise is important, and so is family connection.
Get ready for some drama.
Emotions are on steroids for your child and all their peers. It’s an intense time for everyone. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G is a big deal. The key to surviving this level of ferocity is to learn how to chill your own ball of nerves. I found myself too often projecting or responding to the perceived sentiments and it only escalated a situation that would better be handled with a cool hand. Instead of reacting or invalidating the feelings, point them to positive coping strategies.
I would ask to see the homework before I assumed it was done.
Schoolwork gets more difficult in middle school and teachers expect real ideas and original work from the student. Taking time to do the unseen tasks of reading, organizing and planning ahead is something I wish I helped my middle schoolers learn earlier. I assumed too much and each experienced academic struggles, even failures. Study together, if you feel equipped, or get some help. Our school had good resources for additional aid. Begin homework early in the evening so there is time to complete it and unwind before bed. Touch base about every class each day.
Speaking of the bed, sleeping patterns really do change.
If you provide a phone, device or other screen in your child’s room…put it in a common space to charge at least 30 minutes before bedtime. It takes time to shift gears into bedtime and I didn’t allow for the transition at first. It’s easy to think they will figure out how to sleep better on their own, but your guidance will help establish healthy habits.
I would be a little more understanding about items forgotten at home, but I would not bring them to school.
It’s too easy to become the valet to tweens who aren’t planning ahead for their needs. Give them a pass, but I’ve seen that it usually takes doing without to learn the lesson.
I would prepare my kid for the fact that not everyone is going to like him/her.
Each of my middle schoolers expanded their friend groups in middle school. The flip side is that each of them lost friendships that seemed solid at the end of fifth grade. One of my middle schoolers found himself isolated and bullied, and unable to understand the new social dynamics. I wish I had been more prepared and wish I had equipped my kids for the changes that were bound to happen.
What did I do well?
Allow them to explore their identity.
Trying new clubs, sports and friend groups is a healthy thing. Talk about it as they feel their way into a new persona. What are you gaining? What are you giving up? Why are you interested in this new thing, person, group?
Keep the family connection strong.
With new responsibilities and different school end times, it’s easy to drift apart. Make sure to have family meals, movie night and faith traditions that have marked your path. It’s worth it to keep those connections as a priority. Everyone and everything else may shift in life, but family is forever.
Support your kid and give them the best tools to handle their challenges…but let them handle it.
Declare some screen-free spaces: meals, short car rides and walks outdoors.
Teach them to live in this moment for the pure pleasure of it. Foster gratitude and finding joy in the little things.