My daughter is going to middle school next month. It’s a big deal. She is my oldest, so the first to be venturing into this new territory. And while my husband and I have our own memories of experiencing middle school, it’s a whole new story when you are the parent of the middle schooler.
Externally, middle school is a big shift from elementary school. The kids move around the building to their different classes; their schedules may be different, depending on the day; the workload and academic expectations are stepped up; and there are lots more kids to get to know and mingle with.
Internally, our kids are living the roller coaster of emerging adolescence. Many of them are becoming hyper-aware of themselves and others and peer relationships are becoming more complex – add the hormonal changes that are going on during this time and it’s no wonder that many of us remember middle school as a nightmare.
As parents, it is true that we have lived through many of the experiences our kids may find themselves facing. This is a mixed blessing. On one hand it can help us to find compassion for the angst that arises in our young adolescents, which can be helpful. On the other hand, we often feel as though we “know” what the results of our kids’ actions will be, and let rigidity show up in our relationship with them: Not so helpful.
The experience our kids are living is theirs, not ours. This is when relationship begins to really matter. We can maintain a relationship with them, increasing the likelihood that they will continue to turn to us for guidance, using encouragement, curiosity, and routines.
Encouragement This is less about what we say and more about the messages that come through our interactions with our kids. Remember, how we see our child is the way they learn to see themselves.
Encouragement sounds like, “You really honored your friend when you stood up for her,” “What is your plan for getting this project finished by the end of the week?” “I am here for you and love you no matter what.”
Let your actions prove to your kids that you love them unconditionally. Learn to reign in your reactions when they come to you with heavy topics – they need to know that you can handle whatever they need to bring you. Be available to them, they need you.
Curiosity Another great tool to use with adolescents is curiosity. Let go of I’ve-already-been-there-so-I–know-how-you-feel and use inquiry to get into your child’s world. “Tell me more about…” “What might happen if….” “How will you feel when…” helps kids to explore the consequences of their choices and situations they find themselves in.
The key here is to be truly curious. You don’t want your kids to get into the habit of saying what they think you want to hear; you want them to dig deep and be honest with you. And again, a continuous display of unconditional love and support will maintain a space of trust that will be inviting for your child to step into.
Routines It’s not only the youngest kids that need routines. Preteens and teens (and their parents) thrive with consistency and knowing what to expect. As our kids get more active and independent, they are continuously looking for ways to feel power and control over their life.
When you work with your child to create routines for managing homework and activities, for how you will check in and connect with each other, you lesson the possibility of spending all your time in power struggles. Stay open and aware when routines stop being helpful and invite you child into a conversation about how to change things up in a way that is helpful for everyone involved.
As September looms close, look for ways to connect with your child. Begin conversations about routines and relationships. Let them know how you will be working to hold a space of non-judgment and unconditional love as you all move into this new territory together.
May the force be with you, friends…You’re not alone.
And if you are interested in learning more, my top two recommendations for understanding and loving your return to adolescence are Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel, and Positive Discipline for Teenagers: Empowering Your Teen and Yourself Through Kind and Firm Parenting by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott.
Casey O’Roarty is a Positive Discipline Trainer and coach, passionate about working with parents. She lives with her husband, 11 year old daughter, and 8 year old son in Monroe. To find out about her offers, go to www.joyfulcourage.com. To check out her latest project, go to Radical Resiliency – a workshop for girls going into middle school.