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5 tips for moms who will be new to middle school, from a mom who's been there

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I love looking at the above pictures side by side like this. I love sharing them like that, too because it shows how much kids can change during middle school.

After writing recently about my wistfulness over my youngest child’s finishing middle school, I learned that thoughts of middle school bring out a lot of strong opinions. I get that. Those years can be hard.

If you are the parent of a rising middle school student, I hope the following advice helps you to look forward to this school year instead of dreading it. These years do not have to be the worst years of your kids’ life, or your life.

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Think Positively

My number one tip for facing middle school with a positive outlook is to not project your own childhood middle school experience onto your kids. Middle schools have changed for the better. Over the last decade or so the middle school experience has come into its own as a specialty for dedicated educators and counselors. Middle school age kids have unique needs, and schools are recognizing this fact more and more. My best advice is to get to know your middle school – the counselors, the teachers, the administrators. Go on the school’s website and read it inside-out and backwards. You may be pleasantly surprised by their knowledge of, and compassion for, children navigating the middle school years.

It’s Awkward

People can tell us, and we can intellectually know this, but even so, it’s a surprise how much our kids change physically over these years. I’m going to admit that when my sons started to need to shave, and their voices began to change, it made me a little bit uncomfortable. I was used to thinking of them as my little boys, and having to buy shaving cream for my husband and my sons felt weird. My husband was unfazed – until his little girl started shaving her legs. We may know that it’s just a normal part of growing up, but watching our kids mature through puberty still can be uncomfortable. My best advice is to keep your mom friends close. It definitely helps to be able to talk about it with friends – but be careful to respect your kids’ dignity, too.

Don’t be a Social Engineer

When our children hit middle school, we have to remember that their social life isn’t our project. In fairness, up until this point, their social life was our project, but now our kids are in charge of their own social lives. It’s not our job as parents to create groups and activities for our kids that are engineered to skyrocket their popularity.

My best advice is that you will find your kids’ middle school experience a lot less stressful if you just accept that they are not going to be invited to everything. I know some kids are bullied, and some suffer real emotional harm, and that should be addressed with the help of a professional. Apart from those serious situations, though, most social stresses for your child can be helped most by a night on the couch and a Gilmore Girls binge watch. It worked wonders in my house.

College Pressures

It may be hard to believe, but college pressures do trickle down to middle school. While middle school transcripts won’t be seen by colleges, academic tracks often begin in middle school. Meaning that the classes a child takes in middle school will affect the classes they can qualify for in high school. Sixth grade seems a little early to be worried about AP Calculus, but in some cases, that’s when the journey to AP classes begins.

That can be hyper-stressful. The thing about those middle school years is that kids develop in fits and starts. While their bodies are growing, their cognitive skills might be idling, but then suddenly your 12-year-old is grasping the complex and abstract ideas that were out of reach the year before. If this happens to your child, and you truly believe that they are now capable of doing harder work at school, then you are going to have to advocate for your child to get them the best education they are capable of getting.

Habits over Results

Even with, or maybe especially because of, the college pressures our middle school kids are feeling, it is important for us parents to emphasize process over product. Meaning now is the time for kids to establish good study skills. For some, middle school might be the first time that they really have to study to get good grades. It also might be the first time they are expected to manage long term projects, work collaboratively with their peers, and juggle after-school activities with an increasing homework load. Middle school is the perfect time to help your child learn how to learn. My advice is to focus on study skills and habits, and not grades. But don’t be surprised if their grades get better as a result of these improved study habits.

This is the first year in a very long time that we will not have a middle school student in the family. I’m still a middle school librarian, though, which means I still get to go to middle school every day and that makes me very happy. Good luck with your family’s middle school experience!

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Maureen Paschal is a freelance writer, a tutor, a teacher-librarian, and a mom of four almost grown kids. She blogs at Raising The Capable Student where her goal is helping parents to keep family life a priority and school success in perspective. Her work has been featured in On Parenting from the Washington Post, Grown and Flown, Perfection Pending, and Today Parents.

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