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Expect Memories - Not Mayhem - From the Middle School Years: A Parent Pep Talk

Any parent who has survived their child’s middle school years will assure you that you can successfully navigate them, too. Although the honeymoon period of elementary school is over and middle school comes with ample trials and tribulations for most kids, try not to expect the worst. Parents who welcome the challenges of junior high as opportunities for growth will still be smiling by the time they attend their child’s junior high graduation ceremony.

Expect your child to face and overcome hurdles in middle school. Middle school is supposed to be about making mistakes and bouncing back from disappointments. Kids who navigate turbulence with spunk will mature in middle school. Kids who struggle with self-awareness and assertiveness are going to need extra support to develop the skills needed in high school.

If you want your kid to thrive in junior high school, don’t leave them to their own devices. If you expect everything to be hunky dory all the time for your child in junior high, you will likely be disappointed. And if you think kids can figure everything out for themselves at this age with little adult supervision, you may want to wake up. This is middle school, which is preparation for high school, which is preparation for post-secondary education, which is preparation for adulthood. Therefore, your child is going to need you each and every day during these transitional years.

Middle-schoolers are embarking on a three-year journey and they will come out the other end of the process transformed. Whether or not they are changed for the better is largely up to you.

Here is a list of some of the challenges middle school kids face and how you can help:

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

Expanding learning abilities. Junior high 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 so you can help smooth the way.

Dealing with social pressures. How much social pressure exists in middle school? Tons. So roll up your sleeves and always be ready to troubleshoot. The best advice takes your child’s personality into account and eschews going along with the crowd. 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 to be adequately prepared. A little bit of planning support goes a long way until dreamy tweens can get the hang of due dates.

Navigating the online world. Giving kids too much responsibility too soon can lead to extra expenses and shaken confidence. So trust your instincts. You will know when your child is ready to embrace the job of caring for a mini computer, otherwise known as a cell phone.

Finding healthy tribes. Kids will be kids, but no parent wants their child hanging out with a bunch of troublemakers. Your child’s peer group has a huge influence on their daily life. Teach your kids to choose friends wisely and to distance themselves from those who make consistently unhealthy choices.

Communicating with teachers and coaches. You know how to do this, but now it’s time to let your child step up and converse with authority figures. You can encourage your child, confirm with them if something bad is happening, and even follow up with adults to make sure your child isn’t blowing you smoke. But let your child communicate their concerns with teachers and coaches or your child won’t learn how.

Confronting bullies. Not avoiding bullies. Not hiding from bullies. Not doing whatever bullies want so they won’t pick on you. Confronting bullies means being able to stand up to someone being mean to your child whether your child’s friends will back your kid up or not. Let your kids know you expect them to stand up for themselves and for others in need of assistance and, if possible, watch them do it.

Becoming a positive contributor. “Everyone hates substitutes.” “No one likes the new math teacher.” “That kid is so weird.” Teach your child to be kind and respectful to everyone at their school, including their teachers, substitutes, coaches, etc. Encourage them to actively contribute in their classes and make positive contributions within their junior high school.

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- a-test days or the getting-sent-to-the-principal’s-office days. How you respond to some twist on this trope is important. Kids need to process their feelings before they can bounce back or 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 so they can spectate and speculate. 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 romantic relationships.

Prioritizing needs. Kids have needs and those needs matter even when life is hectic for everyone in the family. Maybe your child needs a new notebook for algebra. Maybe your child needs you to sign a field trip form and write a cheque. Have regular plan-the-week meetings on weekends to discuss what your child is going to need from you and avoid last-minute crunches that create needless stress and bickering.

Remembering to rest. Taking nice long baths with soft music and candles. Pulling the blackout curtains for a three-hour afternoon nap. Watching a six-episode, BBC Pride And Prejudice binge-watching session to recover from the sniffles. Growing kids need to unwind sometimes, but they may have trouble recognizing the importance of rest. When they forget, give them a nudge in a decompressing direction.

Shining despite speed bumps. Guess what? Your kid is going to stumble, fall, and maybe even face-plant in middle school. But they will still have plenty of shining moments where they are ecstatic and in their element. If your child isn’t having enough moments like these, call a family meeting, put your heads together, and look for new opportunities where they are more likely to succeed.

How you can help your child navigate middle school:

  • Be there 
  • Listen 
  • 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 

Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina is a bit sad that the middle school adventures for her child are over. But she’s looking forward to the challenges that high school will bring.


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