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Ages & Stages: Preparing for Middle School

Middle school students are a unique bunch of kids. They want to be in high school, but still like the security of the routines of their elementary school. They try on personality traits and new fashions and phrases at the drop of a hat. From one new thing to the next, they are a simultaneous delight and challenge to teach and parent. As they step out and away from what we can control as parents, there are some things they need to know and practice before hitting sixth grade in order to make a successful transition. 

At the awkward tween-age stage, students are working on regulating their emotions and tempers. Many are not always equipped to deal with the mean kid in class or a sudden barb from a new friend. As a parent, you can help them navigate the chaotic waters with a few fun skills practices. Much like a kindergartener preparing for their first day of school, middle school students need to have a few social and emotional skills under their belt before they ever make it to class.

·      Teach your child to be a good sport. Whether it is a classroom competition or an intramural basketball game, they need to congratulate the winners and support their teammates. Too many times our culture has celebrated having the last word; roasting, zingers or jokes at another’s expense are not conducive to making a team. Often the best way to practice this skill is also one that helps build family time. Play a board game you used to love as a kid and insist that they not goad their opponent with sharp words. Or have them teach you a video game they like to play and point out how you do better with encouraging words rather than smart aleck remarks. 

·      Patience and organization are two key skills they will need to master. In the era of instant gratification, a child that can redo an assignment for a better grade or stick with the homework until they understand a classroom concept is the one that will later be successful. Building a puzzle over the period of a few weeks as a family, or completing a hands-on project in your home that lasts more than one sitting, is a strategic method of teaching this skill without using words. Knowing where they have laid their tools or that lost piece translates to knowing where they have stored their pencils, paper and the previous day’s homework assignments without having to always ask an adult to organize them. 

·      Self-regulation is a skill that many children will continue to struggle with well into adulthood, but you can help your child get ahead by teaching them a few simple tricks. There are scads of videos online demonstrating quick tempers and action before thought, but even children in elementary school can be taught to take a moment to regulate their own emotions and make the best independent choices in any situation. Teaching the simple technique of deep breathing literally helps them reset their brains to a quick calm. Instead of responding to the bully and getting in trouble or shouting on the bus, they can take a quick breathing moment to decide what the smartest course of action would be.

A mixture of sugar and spice, middle school students take a mountain of patience. And though they would have you believe that they are all grown up and ready to make their own choices, just like those early years they need specific guidance to prepare them to be a success. Be a good sport, be patient and honest and kind and include others are skills that make them more than just teachable students, it also puts them on track to be an amazing adult.