Transitioning from elementary school to middle school is a big change, for the child AND parents! As an educator for over 20 years at the secondary level, let me give you some tips to make the transition easier.
- Do you still fit in? You were the PTA president from kindergarten until 6th grade, now you don't know what role you have at the middle school. Parents think that they might embarrass their child and that being at middle school is not cool. Guess what? Your kids love to see you volunteer and be at school! They may not come around you as much, after all this is a gradual release of becoming more independent, but seeing you at school gives them a sense of comfort. I have NEVER seen a child embarrassed of his/her parent being at school. Plus, schools need parent volunteers more than ever!
- Get dialed in! Is middle school the time to get your child a cell phone? Its really your choice. Phones are in each classroom and in pretty much every office. Students really don't need one, they have access to a phone school-wide. But if you get one, DON'T GET THE LATEST AND THE GREATEST! Get the most affordable phone that is functional for the purposes you want. Any personal item of great value should NOT come to school! I've had too many iPhones get lost or stolen. Be aware that many schools have a policy that phones are "bring at your own risk" items and that staff will not spend an inordinate amount of time investigating loss or stolen personal electronics. Secondly, if you are going to allow your child to have any electronic item, please monitor your child when he/she uses it. Lots of inappropriate content is at their fingertips. Anything can be YouTube'd nowadays. In addition, make sure your child is not posting inappropriate selfies or content of themselves. They can easily become victims of adult predators and also regret it down the line once a nude picture gets sent out into cyberspace. Colleges and potential employers do their research, you know. You really need to be up to date on social media in order to monitor your child carefully. At night, have a rule that all electronics are charged in your room. Children can get them back in the morning. Lastly, understand the school policy on phones and both child and parent should abide by them. We tell our students to have phones turned off and to put them away but there's always that student that receives a text during school hours and it is from MOM of all people!
- Get the 411. Technology can be your best friend! Bookmark the school website. Know when school activities are happening. Make sure that the school has the correct phone number and email address for you because more and more schools are utilizing automated call and emails to correspond with parents. Know the bell schedule and when students are released early. Know when parent meetings are held so that you can be present and participate. Be familiar with the online programs that your child's teachers use so that you always know what assignments are due, when tests are coming up, and what grade your child has in each class. In this day and age, there is no reason not to be informed. It is easier for students to stay on top of it than catch up from behind.
- Set up for studying success! Middle school is serious stuff! Your child may be taking his first A-G class to satisfy college entrance requirements. He/She may be taking a foreign language class, a math class that is advanced, and may need to complete a science project! Make sure that your child has a standing study time, the better to stick with it daily. Have a snack ready for your student when they get home, the body and brain need re-fueling after a long day. Have a well-lit, quiet area, where supplies are readily available. You as the parent don't need to hover around, but be a resource for your child. Many times, boys especially, need help with organization! Do a binder check regularly and see if your child is turning in what needs to be turned in and completing assigned tasks. If there seems to be a need for extra support, schools do have tutoring hours available and many high schools screen their top academic students to be paid tutors. Contact the counseling center of your closest high school to see if your child can get extra one-on-one help.
- How was your day? Society tells us we're not good parents if we don't ask this of our kids daily. However, before you ask that question, identify whether your child is an extrovert or introvert. As parents, we don't want to miss anything that happens in their lives, but right after school lets out when they get in the car may not be the best time to bombard them with questions. What did you do today? What did you learn? Extroverts may have no problem gabbing it up with you but for the introverts, wait until they have had a chance to decompress, eat a snack, and relax. Just like you, maybe they need to tune out for a bit after being stimulated all day. Also, every day is not going to be a happy day. Middle school can be one of the most trying times in a child's life. Your child's elementary friends may have started hanging out with different kids, or maybe they will experience their first rejection from a crush, or they didn't win the class election or get chosen for the soccer team. These experiences are called "growing pains." Everyone has them, learns how to cope and survives. Middle school may not be the greatest time in your child's life but that just means the best is yet to come.
- Birds of a feather flock together. Tell me who your friends are and I'll tell you who you are. I often say this to students. The most influential group of people in the life of a middle-schooler is their group of friends. I tell students if you really care about your grades and want to do well in school, you will make friends with other students who care about the same thing. You'll seek out those students who like to study and will help you figure out something when you don't know. So if you want to know your child, know their friends. Simple as that. Notice if there is a change in behavior. This could clue you in to if something needs more prodding. If your usually chatty child is now more quiet than usual, or loses interest in hobbies they normally enjoy, check in on them.
- My child is being bullied! The worst feeling in the world for parents is when they find out that someone has caused harm to their child, physically or emotionally. Let's discuss what this buzz word "bullying" means. Just because someone said something unkind to your child ONE time does not necessarily constitute bullying. Was it mean? Probably, but not necessarily bullying. Bullying can take a variety of forms: physical, verbal, or cyber (online). "Bullying" is repeated, unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance in power. Imbalance is the key word. If comments are being made on social media about your child and come to find out, your child is replying back with even worse comments, then most likely, it will be considered a mutual situation where both students are in the wrong. What do you do? If it is happening at school, encourage your child to report it or report it yourself to administration. The sooner the better in order to prevent situations from escalating into higher levels of confrontation. What typically happens is that a school staff member will interview your child to get specific details and then interview others involved. It is not encouraged for parents to contact the other child's parents if they are not acquaintances already. Let the school help facilitate a resolution and know that a parent to parent meeting is sometimes not in the best interest of resolving the conflict. Progressive discipline will be administered to the aggressor, depending on the severity of the behavior. And if the situation warrants it, local law enforcement may be involved. Oftentimes, minor instances are opportunities for students to learn how to resolve conflict peacefully through listening and speaking skills. It is a chance for school staff to model appropriate phrases or words to express anger, sadness, frustration and also to model how to apologize and assure that the behavior will not occur again. If at any time, you or your child feels that his/her safety is in immediate danger, call 911.
- Who wears the pants? When a child is not following the program, not doing what they are supposed to do, and the parent comes in and says to the child,... "Well, what do you want to do?" sometimes I want to tear my hair out. At that point, I know who's in charge. The parent should be the shot-caller, the decision maker, the ADULT. Middle-schoolers still need guidance, structure, and a PARENT telling them what is right and what is wrong. Their brains are still developing at this age. Don't give that power to your children to make the decisions, because once authority is relinquished, it can be difficult to regain.
- "But I know my child! He would never do that!" I've heard this many times than I can remember.Your child has different personas. We all do. Think about it. Do you behave the same when you are with colleagues and when you are around your childhood friends? Roles and behavior change according to the group your child is around. Your child CAN be different at school and at home. Poor choices/bad behavior doesn't mean your child is a bad person. Let me state that again, bad behavior doesn't mean your child is a bad person. Parents sometimes think that once there is a disciplinary issue at school, their child is now labeled as a "bad kid." Quite the contrary, what the school wants is what you want. We want your child to learn from mistakes and not repeat them over and over again. Teach your child to own up to poor behavior, apologize and assure that they will try better next time. It is not the end of the world if you get a call from school to come to the Principal's office. It just means that your child needs to make better choices. Discipline your child at home but also give them an option to earn some privileges back too once they demonstrate desired behavior.
- Just like the chorus from High School Musical, "We're all in this together!" The school, teachers, counselors, support staff, and administrators are not your enemies. We all chose to work with kids for a reason. Trust our expertise and intentions. We're there to educate, not intimidate. Students are coming to us with more and more challenges, academically and socially. The nuclear family is not the norm. More students than ever are living with grandparents, uncles and aunts because their parent is working two jobs, locked up, or has abandoned them. Students who are 11,12,and 13 are reading at the second or third grade level. They don't know their multiplication tables. They don't know how to communicate so every argument turns into a fight. We have our job cut out for us. If we want your child to stay after school for tutoring, don't argue with us about it. We know how to read, your child doesn't. Your kid failed a class and needs to take it over on Saturdays. Don't tell us he can't come because he has a soccer game or you're going to a social function. Don't worry about what your child hears you saying, worry about what your child sees you doing. Actions matter. We want your children to become independent life-long learners who will be able to reason, use critical thinking and communication skills in order to compete for those college spots and/or jobs. Put academics first, and work WITH us.
- Finally, fill our cups! We have a tough job working with students all day and schools love hearing from parents when we do something right or just because. Want to talk to us? Leave a message and we'll call you back. We love emails too. And please give us 24-48 hours to respond. If we can accommodate you when you walk in, we will. Telling the secretaries that you took the day off to see the teacher or principal doesn't mean you automatically get a fast pass. You still may have to wait a bit. Better yet, make an appointment and for every concern, have a proposed solution. Don't be THAT parent who only complains. Be the one who brings coffee and donuts (or a healthy option) for the staff. Be the one who comes every week to make copies. Be the one who helps supervise at lunch. Be the one who tells our staff members how appreciative you are that they give so much. Be the parent who is truly the parent and not the "friend" to their child. You and your child will survive middle school just fine.
Have an idea that would make the transition to middle school easier for parents? Please comment below! Thanks!