Parents: How to help your middle schooler (and you) navigate this season

It never fails, when I tell people I teach middle school they respond with some version of Why? Their twisted up face recalls their own experience and for most, it’s not a good one. Middle school is a difficult season for many people. It’s one of the reasons I chose to teach this grade level; mine was pretty rough having to move during the school year. But middle school is really the last chance for kids to be kids before that pressure of adulting takes hold. It’s called the middle school for a reason, it’s a transition period. Transition means you’re having to do something for the first time and that’s tough. Besides middle school today is not like middle school in “our day,” so let me share a few ways to help make these years easier.

Responsibility Grows in Middle School

These years of transition call for a shift in responsibility. I’ve recently read several parenting blogs that have addressed this topic and how it’s a problem area for parents. Meaning we aren’t giving our kids enough responsibilities so that they grow up knowing how to handle important tasks or take care of difficult situations. I would have to agree with this because over the years I’ve heard many parents apologize for their child with, “It’s my fault they didn’t” fill in the blank. It’s not your fault parents! Teachers are very good at communicating their expectations, so your child knows what they need to accomplish they just chose not to do it. Help your child add responsibilities to their daily routines. Think about what tasks you do for them currently that you could one-by-one start making them responsible for. Especially tasks that are school related.

Organization & Time Management in Middle School

Here are two places where you can really help your child gain more responsibility. Keeping papers organized is a major issue with most middle schoolers, they don’t know how to do it. Many of their elementary teachers did these things for them in order to keep order in their classrooms. Now that students are traveling between classes this could be different for every class or there may not be a system for students to use at all.

Start by showing them how you organize. Not all the details but think of a place where you have a system and show them how that works for you. Everyone is different, so brainstorm with them ways that could work for them. For me color coding separate folders works. Some kids like to have one place for everything and prefer the zippered binders with an accordion folder system.  However, they choose to do it is fine, as long as there is a system. During Open House at your school talk about how to organize their locker. There are so many accessories for this, but simple is also good. Load books left to right, pull from the left place back on the right and the books will rotate through the day. Stacked is not a good idea!

Parents: How to navigate the middle school years

Managing their time is also a major pitfall for many middle school students. They are naturally becoming more social and now have the opportunity of extracurriculars that they didn’t have with elementary school. Our building provides students with a planner to write down all their assignments and activities. Keeping up with this is something we as teachers try to oversee, but it really helps when parents do as well. It will also keep you informed of what they are doing in school. Again, show them how you do this. Even if you keep a calendar on your phone it helps when they see that this is a lifelong skill and there is value to learning how to manage our time. There is nothing worse than seeing a student’s organizer with the word ABSENT written across all the squares. They now have nowhere to write what they actually missed on that day. This is also an indicator that they don’t understand the use of a planner or choose to use it for its true purpose. Once they do use a planner for its true purpose they may need help executing the follow through. It may be written down, but are they completing the tasks and making time for the activities they listed? Helping them find a routine for school-related tasks can be helpful. Remember it’s all about showing them what it can look like and then let them take responsibility for these tasks. If it starts to fall apart, revisit why it’s not working, and then look at ways to make changes to help the system work again.

Be involved vs. over-involved

Technology has given teachers so many new, easy ways to communicate with parents that were never there in the past. Some teachers embrace this and some let the district or building make communication. Either way look for how you can stay up to date with what’s happening in your child’s classrooms. Please read the newsletters! This is a great time for everyone in the family to sit down with their planners and write down important events. Schools are also posting grades online in a way that allow parents and students access. Make sure you know how to access these sites. There are often options for adding additional contact information and for alerts when your child has missing assignments or low grades. THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION TO TAKE CONTROL. Here is a perfect example of how you can help your child gain more responsibility. This is not the time to do it for them. Ask them questions. If they don’t know the answer help them prepare a conversation to have with their teacher. Let them go to the teacher before you do. This is what they need! They need that opportunity to take care of a situation on their own, but if they haven’t done this before it’s good to practice at home first. Roleplay, you be the teacher and let them ask their questions. Even the most approachable teacher can still be intimidating simply because they are the teacher. Keep in mind our end goal as parents are to grow and encourage capable adults.

Add Value to Their Middle School Experience

School today looks a whole lot different from what we experienced, but this is not a bad thing. Often times I see parents struggle with this, it looks so different they throw their hands up and choose to disconnect with that part of what their child is doing. Middle school is often the time that parents stop attending open houses or conferences or really talking to their child about school at all; until there is an issue. Many teachers have embraced the way technology allows parents to peek inside their classroom on a daily or weekly basis. When you ask your child about something you read or saw from these opportunities it adds value to what we as teachers are doing in the classroom. Kids translate that as you care about what’s happening there and recognize the importance of school. When you ask “how was school today?” the common answer will be, “good.” When you start the conversation with, “tell me more about that immigration project you worked on today,” a one-word answer is a lot harder to give.

Middle school is full of new things, but those things don’t have to be negative. Let’s give kids a joyful memory of middle school. I know that’s my goal! Are you a parent of a middle schooler? Share in the comments what has worked for you and your child. Are you a middle school teacher? Tell us how you help parents and students navigate this changing season of childhood.

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