I never expected middle school to be quite so difficult for my daughter (more on that in a minute). But now that she’s in eighth grade — and thriving — I realize that the three stages of middle school are very much like the ivy my husband is growing on our backyard wall.
He told me that 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 in the very different academic and social soil of middle school. The second year of middle school they’ll usually creep forward and at least move in the right direction. Finally, eighth grade often brings greater confidence and steady growth, all just in time to get ready for the challenge of high school.
Of course, the better prepared you are for these stages, the more you’ll be able to help your children not just survive middle school, but thrive. These tips will help you get ready, Mom.
Tip 1: Get to know your new child.
The little girl or boy of the elementary years is a new creature entirely when they enter sixth grade. Not only are there physical changes and hormonal shifts that are beyond their control, 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. Your serious little student might change into a child that craves social approval. Your outgoing and confident child might suddenly become more quiet and unsure of himself.
The little girl or boy of the elementary years is a new creature entirely when they enter sixth grade.
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. It wasn’t until the end of seventh grade when she had matured a bit that she turned back to her studies and made friends with a new group who were also motivated to do well. Now that she’s in eighth grade, she’s doing well in the classroom and socially. 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.
Tip 2. Get to know your new role.
The above story about my daughter illustrates the need for mothers of middle schoolers to be less involved in the day-to-day directing of their children’s choices. 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. And while our children are growing more independent, we need to ponder. Susan Merrill shares how to do that here.
But don’t step out of your child’s life too much. You still need to be there for him 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. (To learn more about the authoritative style of parenting and the three styles you’ll want to avoid, go here.)
Tip 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 the children in her grade. 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 the world my child now lives in.
iMOM Director 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. Confidentiality is important. Also reach out to your children’s teachers as needed, but make sure your children don’t know about it. Step in when necessary to supplement your child’s efforts, but let them think they’re taking the lead. Of course, you always want them to know that they can turn to you for anything and that you’ll help them figure things out. What advice do you have for moms of middle school kids?