Entering middle school is both an exciting and frightening time for kids and their parents. It’s when kids begin exiting their tween years and entering their teens. At such a major life-stage juncture, kids may need some parental guidance, whether they believe it or not.
Gone are the little desks they would park their pencil boxes in and call their own for an entire year. They will now be changing classrooms and teachers for more than just PE and music. They will be part of the cacophony of slamming locker doors echoing up and down chaotic hallways.
Although your child may feel like an adult, you know they’re miles away. All you can do is help them prepare adequately enough to make this rite of passage as smooth as possible. To get you started, here are four things you can prep your kid for as they enter middle school.
1. Technology, Freedom, and Responsibility
There are life events that give children a taste of freedom, like losing the training wheels and riding the bus alone. There’s also driving a car and moving into a college dorm. In between, there’s entering middle school.
Trying to teach your child that with freedom comes responsibility can be a challenge. You may also wonder how you can keep track of them now that they have more leeway in their daily routine.
This coming of age also correlates with the pressure of wanting a cell phone. Your kid will tell you that being in middle school without one is socially unacceptable. You don’t want your child to be ostracized, but is there another “cool” way to keep them connected and safe?
According to Gabb Wireless, one great option is a kids smartwatch instead. The smartwatch is like a phone, but limits features like internet access and how many contacts they can store. You can even shut it down while staying connected to them during classes to help avoid distractions.
The right technology can help you teach those lessons kids need to learn about responsibility. As they spread their wings, you can still retain some control. After all, they’ll still be in the nest for a few more years.
2. Getting the Lay of the Land
Colleges require freshmen to show up on campus early for a reason. They need to settle in and familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. You can bet that before the other students arrive, first-year students have plotted their paths to and from their classes.
Apply the same lesson to your middle schooler. You and your child should become familiar with their class schedule. Visit the school to figure out how to get from one class to another without looking like a rookie.
Don’t forget to note the location of bathrooms, the cafeteria, gym, and the administrative offices. Of course, make sure you find their locker. It will be like home base in a game of hide-and-go-seek for their first days in school.
Figure out how many minutes your kid will have between one class bell and another. There may not be enough time to navigate a crowded hallway to return to their locker between every single class. Your kid can double up on books to avoid being late to class.
Mapping out your child’s new environs doesn’t just help them from day one. It also gives you a visual of where they are at a given time during the day. Getting the lay of this strange, new land has advantages for you both.
3. Taking Their Own Lead
It’s going to be tough for you to step back a little in your child’s life, but it’s time. You would probably love to hold their hand as they enter the building and blow them a kiss. Resist the temptation because it’s time to let them take the lead.
Relinquish more of the decision-making to them on certain issues, within reason. For example, start to let go of some choices regarding back-to-school clothes, haircuts, and school activities. While your kid may voice strong opinions about everything, remember that they don’t really know what choices to make, either. Allow them to have some agency so they feel empowered.
For example, maybe you buy only basic school supplies and clothes at first. Once your child sees what everyone else has, go shopping again to get the rest. With parents spending an average of $843 on school supplies this year, you’ll want to get it right.
There’s a fine line between just following the crowd and making their own statement. Encourage them to balance the two by providing unobtrusive guidance when they’re unsure. Wisely picking your battles as they push the envelope will help them set priorities.
Of course, you don’t stop being a parent when your child enters middle school. But the power dynamic does begin to shift. Show your kid support and they will be more intrepid in making decisions and shouldering responsibility.
4. A New Social Order
Let’s face it, the middle school years are awkward. School photos document forever-bad hair styles, braces, glasses, and blemishes. Bodies and voices can change, girls tower over boys, and puberty begins.
It doesn’t help that the world is a much smaller place now than when you started middle school. Kids know a lot of things you were not aware of at their age. You may not know about or understand a lot of their concerns. Be patient with your child as you get up to speed on what’s happening in their world.
You can help your child by discussing social challenges they will likely face. Those begin with the fact that the childhood friendships they’ve had until now will likely change. They may be going to different schools or leaving old friends behind as they make new ones.
Then there are self-esteem issues, peer pressure, academic stress, body shaming, social isolation, and bullying. You can help them understand what these are. Just knowing about these topics may help your child deal with them in real time if they occur.
Not all middle schoolers will experience catastrophic social change. Whether they do or not, it’s important that you begin having an open dialog with kids early. Let them know now that you will be there for them when they want to talk about social problems later.
Helping your kid know what to expect as they enter middle school is simply good parenting. Boundaries will change for both you and your child as will your relationship. A little careful prep before the first day of school will help both of you adjust with ease.