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Challenge: Back to School

It's Time For Middle School. (Don't be afraid. Don't be very, very afraid.)

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You start to hear the whispers toward the end of fifth grade and with mounting alarm and anxiety the voices get louder.

“I cannot do middle school.”

“I just want to skip the next few years.”

“This is gonna SUCK.”

And those are the parents talking.

What is it that parents dread most about their kids transitioning to middle school? Well, just about ALL of it.

The changing bodies, brains and behaviors of middle school can be downright baffling. Throw social media, social pyramids and social pressure in the mix and you’ve got a perfect storm that would send any reasonable parent running for the hills.

On the other hand…

Middle school really can be one of the best times for both you and your child if you reframe your expectations. I’ve worked with middle schoolers for over ten years, and as the mom of an 8th and a 10th grader, here are just a few things I recommend to make the next few years enjoyable:

Be positive. Many of us remember middle school with a cringe but it’s important to let go of our baggage before we burden our kids with it. You can make “middle school is the worst” a self-fulfilling prophecy. Watch your language (even when you think your kid isn’t listening) and set the expectation that middle school is a good time.

Allow for experimentation. It’s during middle school that kids begin to develop identities apart from their parents. This is an important part of growing up, but finding your identity isn’t a foregone conclusion. It takes a lot of trial and error. Your child may come downstaitrs grunge one day and preppy the next. Friendships will change. Activities will be chosen and quit with lightening speed. That’s all ok. Middle school is like the buffet of life. You have to try a lot of things to figure out what suits you.

Encourage risk taking. Research shows that kids who take positive risks in middle school are much less likely to take negative risks. This lines up perfectly with healthy experimentation. Encourage your child to do things that make him or her nervous: join a club, try a new sport, audition for a local TV commercial, start a business, invite new friends over. The drive to take risks in middle school is real so make space for your kids to take positive risks and they won’t be compelled to take too many dangerous risks behind your back.

Give yourself a demotion. By the time your kid goes to middle school, they need to practice the critical thinking and brainstorming skills it takes to solve their own problems. Since you should no longer closely manage your child’s social or academic life, think of it as getting demoted from Manager to Assistant Manager. Ultimately the buck still stops with you, but you want to give your kid plenty of opportunities to get good at solving problems.

Middle school can be messy, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s simply part of figuring out how to be a good adult. Allow your kid – and yourself – the latitude to make mistakes, to explore new surroundings, to reinvent, to ask lots of questions and, most importantly, to not know all the answers.

Want to read more about making the most of the middle school years? Check out my book Middle School Makeover: Improving The Way You and Your Child Experience The Middle School Years.

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