Any parent who has survived the middle school years will assure you that you can navigate them, too.

Middle school is supposed to be about making mistakes and bouncing back from disappointments. Some kids navigate turbulence with spunk; some struggle with self-awareness and assertiveness. Don’t expect them to figure everything out for themselves with little adult supervision.

Middle-schoolers are embarking on a two- or three-year journey and they will come out transformed. Whether they are changed for the better is largely up to you, the parents. Here are some of the challenges middle school kids face and how to help.

Expressing Individuality. At the end of the summer, sit down with your child and make a list of words that describe who he is. Do this every year before heading back to school to remind your student that he has interests and he is allowed to like whatever he chooses. This list will evolve over the years, and that’s great, too.

Expanding Learning Abilities. Middle school is an opportunity to try new ways of learning. Kids will get to do science labs for the first time, peer edit each other’s writing, work on projects with partners or in groups. Talk to your kids about how they are adjusting to these new learning modes.

Dealing with Social Pressures. Tons of social pressure exist in middle school and parents should be ready to troubleshoot. Middle school is a great time for kids to learn how to say, “You do things your way and I’ll do things mine.”

Keeping Up with School Assignments and Project Deadlines. Kids tend to procrastinate. Some have trouble understanding that projects and papers must be worked on incrementally. A little bit of planning support helps tweens get the hang of due dates.

Navigating the Online World. Your child is carrying a phone, a camera and a computer in his pocket. Giving kids too much responsibility too soon can lead to extra expenses and shaken confidence. Trust your instincts – you will know when your child is ready for a phone.

Finding Healthy Tribes. No parent wants their child hanging out with a bunch of troublemakers. Your child’s peer group has a huge influence. Teach your kids to choose friends wisely and to distance themselves from those who make unhealthy choices.

Communicating with Teachers and Coaches. Let your child step up and converse with authority figures. You can encourage him, but let him do it or he won’t learn how.

Confronting Bullies. Confronting bullies means being able to stand up to someone being mean to your child whether his friends will back him up or not. Let your kids know you expect them to stand up for themselves and for others in need of assistance and watch them do it.

Becoming a Positive Contributor. Everyone hates substitutes. No one likes the new math teacher. That kid is so weird. But guess what? It doesn’t matter because you are expected to be kind and respectful to everyone at your school, including teachers and substitutes. Furthermore, you will actively contribute in your classes. Got it?

Bouncing Back from Failure and Disappointments. Perhaps the toughest days in middle school are the not-making-the-cut days or the performing-poorly-on-the-test days or the getting-sent-to-the-principal days. How you respond is important. Kids need to process their feelings before they can bounce back and do the right thing. Be calm and patient as you help them figure it all out.

Test-driving Romantic Relationships. Some kids will dive right into relationships in middle school. Others will stay on the sidelines. Others may not seem interested at all. This is the beginning of practicing intimacy, so be sure to have lots of conversations with your child about the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Prioritizing Needs. Kids have needs and those needs matter even when life is hectic. Maybe your daughter needs a new notebook for algebra or maybe she needs you to sign a field trip form and write a check. Have a regular plan-the-week meeting on the weekend to avoid last-minute crunches that create needless stress and bickering.

Learning About the World. Your child is old enough to start learning about the world’s complexities. It’s a great time to teach your child about respecting diversity, tolerating differences, and envisioning a more peaceful world. Kids can practice all of these principles in middle school.

Remembering to Rest. Pulling the black-out curtains for a three-hour afternoon nap. A binge-watching TV session to recover from the sniffles. Growing kids need to unwind sometimes, but they may have trouble recognizing this. When this happens, give them a nudge to decompress.

Shining Despite Speedbumps. Your kid is going to stumble, fall and maybe even face-plant in middle school. But he will still have plenty of shining moments. If your child isn’t having enough moments like these, call a family meeting, put your heads together, and look for new opportunities where he is likely to succeed.

How Parents Can Help Kids in Middle School

Be there.
Talk with them.
Appreciate them.
Relax with them.
Encourage them.
Set clear limits.
Help them prioritize.
Discuss expectations.
Touch base daily.
Monitor online life.
Notice what’s emerging.
Keep them active.
Ignore unhelpful people.
Applaud progress.
Address over-commitment.
Tackle tough topics.
Be approachable.
Hug them often.
Celebrate proud moments.

When Issues Arise

If your child has a misstep, try your best to stay calm. Never focus on what others will think. In fact, you may want to detach yourself from well-meaning friends for a time, as you address your child’s needs. Is your child getting as much attention and support as he needs?

Sometimes problems are by-products” of the company your child keeps. Is your child getting mixed up with kids who thrive on acting out?

If your child is in trouble at school, don’t make school professionals into enemies. Work with them to make sure your child has all the academic and creative outlets he needs.

Kids who get in trouble at this age are often bored, under-supervised, and craving outlets. Keeping kids engaged, challenged, and in healthy routines can ensure they stay safe and productive in the middle school years.

– Christina Katz

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