My three kids all started sixth grade this year. I knew middle school would bring some big changes, but I was amazed by how quickly the teenage attitude showed up. My kids, who once studied at the kitchen table, now often retreat to their bedrooms behind closed doors. The school cafeteria has taken on a new place of daily prominence and drama.
And we have already had our first incident involving inappropriate classroom behavior (by a teacher) and what to do about it. It is clear we are in new territory here. There is going to be a learning curve, but there are ways to navigate the tricky middle school years well. Here are 4 of them.
1. Maintain your curiosity.
Continue to be a student of your child, even if your middle schooler may seem more closed off than he or she did at younger ages. Even if your child is not yet a teen, you may witness a teenage attitude that discourages your curiosity. This distancing causes some parents to become overbearing in an attempt to connect. Others back off and assume their kids don’t want to share. Remember this: your kids need you and want you (even if they don’t admit it!). They also are doing the important work of figuring out how to become more independent. While privacy ought to be respected, secrecy should be confronted. Resist the urge to know everything that goes on in your child’s life, and encourage connection by showing genuine curiosity about the things that really matter.
2. Look for new ways to connect.
Sometimes fostering a strong relationship simply requires a change. That emerging teenage attitude might suggest your kids don’t want to connect, but they do. The methods may simply need to change. Our family used to bond over books and snuggle time. While we all still enjoy a good read, my kids open up more now when we share an activity like shooting baskets or riding together in the car. Some of the best interactions come as we clear the table after a meal. No time is wasted time if you look for opportunities to connect.
3. Allow for growing pains.
My daughter had to complete a two-week assignment early in the year. This first long-term project brought all sorts of positive elements to our home: excitement, creativity, challenge, practice at time management. But it also elicited tears and frustration when first drafts disappointed and final drafts didn’t capture the original vision. It was difficult to watch my child struggle and fume, go back to the drawing board, and experiment with methods that didn’t serve her well. But that struggle was so important—far more important than my own desire to ease the way for her. Our kids need to struggle. They need to get things wrong, make mistakes, try out their ideas and see what works and what doesn’t. This is the critical work of learning. We do our kids a disservice if we swoop in with answers before they have grappled with the questions themselves.
4. Guide your kids to engage with other adults.
As we encourage our kids to grow in independence, that means other adults will take on influential roles in their lives. Teachers, coaches, pastors, and employers will all have an impact on our growing kids. Keep an eye out for places where you need to step in because your child is out of their element. When one of my kid’s teachers used cuss words in the process of delivering a science lesson, my husband and I promptly intervened. But there are many times when we are best off trusting in the judgment, wisdom, and conviction of our kids, whom we have trained since infancy. Be thankful there are responsible adults who are willing to be a blessing to your children and help you along the way.
What would you add to this list to help navigate parenting through these tough years?