The Middle School years typically creep up on many of us before we’re ready. I definitely feel this way. The years are moving quickly and in two and a half years, my eldest will be in middle school. What can we do to help our kids prepare for the changes that await them?
I have been working in middle schools as a substitute teacher, and it has brought some delightful real life surprises. Some adults talk about this age group as if they’re insecure, rebellious and have an identity crisis. I’m sure many experience this, but I have found a lot of them to be secure, insightful, and ethical. They are not as out to lunch as some think.
I decided to ask the middle school students for advice about preparing my kids for middle school.
These are their top 4 words of wisdom:
1. Teach your kids study skills before coming to middle school.
This was the top answer repeated over and over again from various schools and classes I visited as a substitute. It was the most challenging aspect of entering middle school for the kids.
How do you teach study skills in the elementary years? I asked the middle school students. Their answer:
Teach them to manage their own homework and projects.
“I know that some moms sit with their kids while they do their homework. Do you think this is good for the kids?” I asked.
Their answer was very reasonable. “From Kindergarten to second grade, this is okay because they’re learning to read and learning basic math. But, starting sometime in third grade, especially in fourth and fifth grade, the kids need to learn to do their homework without their parents. They have to learn to manage their own homework and projects.”
So, moms and dads, if you have a practice of sitting down next to your kids to help with their homework, you might want to consider changing it up.
Yes, it can be hard because the kids might make mistakes on their homework. They might not do it correctly or the way you like it–not as neat or complete as you like.
Perhaps it is time for you to let go of the need for your kid to not fail and learn from his mistakes.
Perhaps it is time to teach them time management by sitting down together at the beginning of every week, have them plan with you what they need to do for the week, and help them have a plan for how they’re going to manage these responsibilities on their own.
Then, it’s time for us moms and dads to take a chill pill and don’t ask, don’t nag, and trust that they will get everything done. If they don’t, hopefully, it would be a good learning experience for all.
They shared that having parents who model and teach time management skills with a planner can be helpful, although not everyone felt like it was necessary.
2. Help your kids manage stress.
I was so intrigued by this advice.
Stress is quite real for middle schoolers. I heard this again and again that stress is real and that they need help managing it. Some stress is self-induced. Others come from peers. Some come from parents.
When I asked, “How do I as a parent, help my kids manage stress?”
I was so impressed by their answers:
- Narrow down your extracurricular activities. They shared that they just can’t handle more than one or two activities. Help your kids narrow down what they’re interested in.
- Set right expectations. Kids feel a lot of pressure to perform. A few students shared how helpful it was for them to know that middle school grades were not as important as high school grades. They appreciated their parents informing them yet still encouraging them to do their best.
- Teach them some relaxation skills. When stressed, kids need to know how to calm down. Whether it is a breathing exercise, prayer, or doodling, give them the tools that they need to deal with their stress.
I thought this piece of advice was brilliant. “When your kid is about to enter middle school, it can be really stressful. Instead of asking, ‘Do you have this and that, do you know where you need to go, what to do, and be all stressed out, take the kid out the day before and do something fun.”
What an amazing advice.
Remind yourself that what my kids need the day before school is parents who are calm, confident, and ready to enjoy their kid before he enters a new season of life. Make this rite of passage fun and meaningful.
Remember that they need our help in setting the expectations. If we don’t help clarify what the middle school years are about, they are more prone to having others expectations set their agenda.
3. Be ready to lose some friends and make some new ones.
We as parents will need to be ready to walk the road of transition, loss, and addition with grace, comforting presence, and clarity. Normalize this process for the kids without dismissing their struggles.
Talk to your kids about this process before it starts to happen. They will relate because of previous school transitions, but they may not be prepared for the amount of change that middle school will bring.
Finally, my favorite advice of all:
4. Don’t tell us what not to do, teach us what to do.
They expressed frustration that they hear too much about what not to do. Here is what one student expressed, “We are pretty smart and we will find ways to do the things we are ‘not to do’ in a different way. They need to show us what to do.”
I think this is something worth chewing on for a while. Listen to yourself and see how you parent. Do you talk more about what not to do, or do you talk about and model what and how to live the life that you want your child to live?
If you have a middle schooler, invite them to dialogue with you. It doesn’t take much to get them talking when they know that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Let them know that your ears are open to listening to them.
If you are in the same boat as me with future middle schoolers, I encourage you to get to know some middle schoolers up close. They’re pretty incredible human beings. They might just help you find the clarity you need as you look ahead.
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Rebecca Lee says
Thank you! I hope it helps many parents!