How to Breeze Through Middle School
As an elementary school wunderkind, a middle school failure and a tenth-grade dropout, I faced the consequences of my poor life choices at an early age. Married at 10, pregnant at 18 and working to support my two children at 24, I woke up to the value of education late. I got my G.E.D. and started taking classes at the local university at night. Nine years later, I received my degree. Middle school was the turning point in my downward spiral, my painful entry into the world of hard knocks.
Middle school is a critical stepping-stone in every child's life. Between the ages of 10 and 14, children experience one of the most emotionally difficult and academically challenging periods in their lives. The decisions they make during these formidable years will have a huge impact on their future success and happiness. Researchers have identified ninth grade as the most critical point to intervene and prevent students from losing motivation, failing and dropping out of school. How can parents help their children succeed and even excel through these difficult years?
I recently interviewed my daughter, a battle-tested middle school teacher and my mother, who supported eight children through the trials and joys of middle school, to attempt to discover the secrets to fighting the middle school blues. Addressing the topic from three different perspectives, we created a list of 10 important tips for parents approaching this difficult stage.
1. Give a Valuable Lesson.
Teach your child the value of education – even when the subject matter doesn't seem applicable. Explore opportunities to generate new interests and foster ideas. If your child hates science, but wants to be a veterinarian, ask your veterinarian to spend a few moments discussing the importance of biology and physics. If your child loves rap bands, ask them to write an essay on a band and their music to help educate you. Be creative in your efforts – you might be surprised how much you learn.
2. Partner Up.
Partner with your child to discover and explore their personal strengths. Reinforce their positive attributes daily. Don't go overboard showering undeserved praise, but make sure you recognize their accomplishments. Assist them with their weaknesses. For example, if your child is heavy and needs to lose weight, teach them the importance of balanced diet and exercise. Better yet, start a healthy-living plan at home for the entire family, change your meal focus and start walking or exercising with your child. Kids are unkind to each other at this age, tackling things together will help your child develop the self-esteem and confidence to persevere.
3. Tell the Truth.
Be open and honest with your children, but even more importantly, be accepting. It's vital to be candid with your children about uncomfortable topics like sex, drugs and violence. Share your personal experiences, no matter how painful, and let them know you can relate. They will face these issues much earlier than you expect. You can't protect them but you can arm them – with knowledge and understanding. Know they will make mistakes and decisions you won't agree with, but if you give them the proper tools, they will bounce back.
4. Embrace Diversity.
Familiarize your children with diversity. Teach them to respect and appreciate the differences of others. Introduce them to a variety of people, cultures and ideas so they will approach diversity in an open-minded way. Never let your prejudices intrude upon your child's innocence. Be willing to discuss their questions and concerns openly and honestly.
5. Teach Respect.
Teach your children to respect themselves and others. Expose them to a variety of social situations. It's important that they are capable of developing relationships with adults and peers. Teacher-pleasing behaviors and the ability to handle different situations will help them excel in the classroom.
6. Promote Organization.
Provide your children with the required school materials, and teach them the value of organization. Reward them for their efforts. Never assume their teachers will focus on this important skill, but know that your child will suffer without it.
7. Treasure the Homework.
Schedule nightly sessions to discuss progress and problems in school. Ask questions and review homework. Let your children teach you. Value this special time with your child, and it will make them value their education.
8. Talk with Teachers.
Develop a relationship with your child's teachers. They see your child for one to six hours a day and have the best view of your child's progress in class. They can also alert you to potential issues they've noticed that might affect your child's welfare. Teachers appreciate these relationships, and will give you honest insight into your child and any problems they might be experiencing.
9. Set an Example.
Set a positive example for your children. Assess your parenting skills on a regular basis. What type of role model are you? How involved a parent? What type of person? Are you fair and honest in your relationships with your friends, your parents and your children? Do you take your frustrations out on your children?
10. Shower Them with Love.
Love your children for who they are. Accept them – their strengths, their weaknesses, their mistakes and their nuances. Help them understand the importance of focusing on personal growth, and encourage them to set their bar high. Allow them to make decisions and learn the repercussions, but set guidelines appropriate for their age and maturity level. Believe in them unconditionally, and teach them to believe in themselves. Let them know that nothing they do or any mistake they make will make you love them any less. This is the single most influential factor in helping your child develop the self-esteem and confidence to ensure a happy and successful middle school experience.