One fall, I attended a three-hour orientation at my son’s school, learning about what to expect when you’re expecting a middle school kid in the house. One of the breakout sessions, taught by the school counselor, was exceptionally valuable, not only for us as parents but also for those of us who work with tweens and middle school students in the context of ministry.
[Editor’s note: Click here to learn three ways to help the parents of middle schoolers.]
We had just settled into the changes we were about to experience when the counselor dropped this one:
“Your sixth graders are forgetful, power-hungry worriers.”
We all chuckled an uncomfortable laugh. Was she kidding? That sounds extreme, right? I mean, forgetful and anxious, sure, I could see that. Power hungry though? Vladimir Putin is power hungry. But our kids?
Then she began to unpack how this all plays itself out and what we can help kids do about it, and it all started to make sense.
Sixth graders are FORGETFUL.
For many middle school kids, if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. Sure, you will have an outlier that will be hyper-focused on their schedule and being organized. But for many of them, remembering events and details is simply not in their skill set quite yet. Whatever it is—homework, soccer games, school projects, anything that is off in the future—keeping track of and completing the tasks will be difficult for these kids without some help.
For parents, the best we can do for them is offer support. This doesn’t mean we become our child’s personal assistant, micro-managing every detail of their lives. Kids are learning how to be adults. They need to experience the tension of remembering tasks and events. But, as parents, we can be understanding of this stage in their development and offer help and solutions that will work for them.
• First of all, ask them what they think might help them remember XYZ. Getting them involved in the process will help them take more ownership of the plan.
• If they have a mobile device, teach them how to use reminders and calendar apps.
• If Post-It notes are more your style, teach your kids to put them front and center on the fridge or the front door or door to the garage where they will see it before heading out for the day.
Do something to help, otherwise our kids won’t be set up to win and might give up. These are learned skills, and middle school is the perfect time to practice them.
Sixth graders make POWER PLAYS.
Much like those years of the terrible twos, your middle school kids are testing their boundaries. Because they are so “me focused,” most of the time that boundary-testing looks like trying to control situations with peers, siblings and parents. Simply put, they want to be in charge. And this is only natural. As kids get older and mature into adults, independence is inevitable. But independence is different than controlling their world.
As adults, we understand that just because we are independent, it doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want. Sure, we can eat ice cream for breakfast, but deciding to skip out on a project for work isn’t such a great idea. In a sixth grader’s mind, the ice cream and the work project are the same thing and hold equal weight.
As parents, we have opportunity to help them understand the difference. We need to pick our battles wisely. And time our battles wisely. Arguing does little good if the argument escalates into a fight. Know your kids; it might be best to wait to talk through the merits of the power play your kids are trying to make. Let everyone cool down, and have a civilized discussion when everyone is calm.
When possible, give them the power to make choices that will help give them a sense of control; where to go for dinner, what to wear to school, how to fix their hair or what to do for family night. And let them fail. If they choose not to finish their schoolwork or complete a project, allow them to feel the consequences of that. They will soon understand that there are some things you just have to do even if you don’t want to do them.
If you’re not sure where to start, Love and Logic has some great resources for the tween and teen years.
Sixth graders have WORRIES.
They might not ever show it. They feel so big and grown up going into middle school, but kids have insecurities. Because they’re forgetful, they worry that they’ll misplace something important. They worry if they’ll have a best friend. They worry if people will like them or like what they’re wearing. They worry about silly things like whether or not they’ll get the “cheese touch.”
Often middle school kids will mirror the emotions of their peers; they will worry about what their friends worry about. Your child may not be going through anything, but they will think their world is crashing in because their best friend’s world is actually crashing in.
For parents, we need to remember that our kids just want a safe place to belong and feel connected. Middle school friendships are fickle. Let home be a place where they will experience unconditional love and acceptance regardless of what’s happening. Help them find a small group of peers and trusted adults who will do the same.
This is an adventure. And helping your child with a solution that works today might not work tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying to help our kids. We’re not raising middle school students. We’re raising adults whom we want to see succeed in this world.
These are only three characteristics, what would you add to this list?
What are some ways you help your middle school child cope with these sorts of characteristics?
This article originally appeared here.