How to Survive Middle School

how to survive middle school

I never expected middle school to be quite so difficult for my daughter. But now that she’s in eighth grade—and thriving—I realize the secret to how to survive middle school is very much like the ivy my husband is growing on our backyard wall.

Growing ivy has three stages. The first year, it sleeps. The second year, it creeps. And the third year, it leaps. That’s exactly how middle school unfolds for many children. The first year, they’re trying to figure out how to grow. The second year, they’ll usually creep forward. Finally, eighth grade often brings greater confidence and steady growth. Here are 3 things you need to handle your growing “ivy.”

1. Get to know your new child.

The little girl or boy of the elementary years is a new creature entirely when sixth grade starts. Not only are there physical changes and hormonal shifts that are beyond middle schoolers’ control, but there is also a shifting school landscape they’re trying to navigate. While they’re adjusting, you might see new sides to your child you didn’t even know existed.

My daughter, an excellent student in elementary school, cried to me one day that she no longer wanted to be known as a kid who was “into the books.” I felt like saying, “What do you mean? Being a good student is a wonderful thing!” But instead, I held back and let her pursue her different path—up to a point. She did focus less on academics and tried to gain entry into the popular crowd. When that didn’t succeed, she spent almost her entire seventh-grade year in a slump. My job during this time was to let her try out this new persona while standing by, ready to swoop in if things got out of hand.

2. Get to know your new role.

Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget found that children in the middle school years are learning to think abstractly. As moms, letting our children work through situations on their own helps them develop the skills they’ll need as adults to factor long-term consequences into their choices.

But don’t step out of your child’s life too much. You still need to be there for him or her as a sounding board and a guide. The ideal parenting style for middle schoolers is the authoritative approach. It allows for more dialogue between parent and child, rather than a “do this because I said so” approach.

3. Get to know your child’s new world.

When my daughter was in elementary school, I knew her teachers very well. Now that she has six different teachers, I’m less familiar with them. Same goes with her classmates. As more and more new students have started attending her school, there are lots of kids and families I don’t know at all. So I’m having to work harder at getting to know my child’s world.

iMOM founder Susan Merrill says, “Moms need a ‘mom mafia’“—a network of other moms who share information with each other about what’s going on in their children’s lives and at their children’s school. Get to know other moms and encourage them to be open with you about what they’ve heard, and you do the same.

What advice do you have for how to survive middle school?