Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist
Here’s a fun thing to do when you are gathered with a number of your friends.
Ask them if they would want to go back to middle school (or junior high as it used to be called.) If your group is like most, only a few in the group will raise their hands.
Adolescence is a dynamic, wonderful time of growth and change in a child’s life, but for most kids, the rapid changes bring their share of confusion and anxiety.
It’s no wonder then, that so many preteens and young teenagers struggle during their middle school years.
Grandparents can help their children and grandchildren prepare for the changes in the following ways.
Middle schools are usually bigger than elementary schools and combine kids from different neighborhoods.
To prepare for this, you can ask a grandchild how he can maintain friends from elementary school while slowly adding new friends. You could talk through some ideas and also suggest that your grandchild visit the new school with a parent and a friend in order to get an idea of what he will be walking into on the first day.
It would also be helpful to talk through a scenario of how your grandchild can introduce himself to new friends and teachers in less than one minute.
Kids in middle school are expected to be much more organized and independent than they were in fifth or sixth grade, even though only a few months separate the end of elementary school and the beginning of middle school.
This can overwhelm a lot of kids. So, you can help your grandchild get organized by assisting her to find out about the typical schedule for a first-year student and then help that child figure out what she needs in order to be able to organize the school day, keep track of homework, etc.
Middle school also comes with many more opportunities for extracurricular activities. A good rule of thumb is to add just one new activity per semester and add another one only as a student finds time for it.
You or her mom or dad can help your grandchild investigate different activities at school and ask him what activity he might like to do first. Talk through a scenario where your grandchild asks a trusted friend to join in the activity.
A fun role-play would be to pretend you are in charge of several different activities and are pressuring your grandchild to join them because he would be “so good”. Kids get flattered when being asked to join a group and quickly get overwhelmed.
They need to learn to ask how much of a time commitment is expected. Whatever answer is given, they should multiply that by three. Extracurricular activities nearly always take at least 3 times the time that is initially estimated.
Your grandchild will likely have more teachers in middle school than in elementary school, so you can help her prepare for the different personalities of teachers.
Ask which qualities she likes most in a teacher and which she has the most difficulty with. Then, go through scenarios of how to cope with teachers your grandchild may struggle with.
The same goes for peers. It helps kids to have practiced some good coping skills for dealing with peers who are unkind, exclude them, bully them, or just ignore them. Ask your grandchild how he can be a good friend.
Time for Friends
One of the biggest mistakes kids make when entering middle school is making too many new friends and signing up for multiple classes and activities within the first month of school. This leaves them feeling overwhelmed very quickly. A good way to talk through this is to write out a loaded schedule and then ask questions like:
- When will you have time to get to know your new friends?
- When will you have time for homework?
- When will you eat/shower, etc?
- When will you sleep?
Kids in middle school are experiencing major physical growth and this tends to tire them out so they need a lot of sleep. You can help your grandchild plan for good eating, exercising, and sleeping routines by asking her about a plan for self-care.
A refresher course on good hygiene can be helpful as well because middle schoolers will start to sweat and smell more as they develop. You’ll be doing your grandchild a favor because if she doesn’t smell good, peers will notice and distance themselves from her.
During this time in life, many kids feel insecure and cover up their insecurity by being critical of their peers. This is a good time to talk with your grandchild about how to handle unfair criticism and how to avoid being overly critical of peers. Encourage them to look for and comment to peers about their positive qualities.
This is when kids get a lot of pressure at school to have cell phones, tablets, and a variety of other devices. However, we know that too much time on technology is detrimental to their physical, mental, and social life.
You and your children should begin talking with your grandchildren (if you haven’t already done so) about appropriate limits on devices. At the same time, they will need some coaching about how to talk to peers who criticize them for not having a cell phone or tell them that their parents are just “way too strict.”
Putting reasonable limitations on the use of technology, and monitoring kids’ use of technology are some of the most important things parents and grandparents can do for middle school children. Therefore, this would be a great time for you to talk with your children and grandchildren about this issue.
It’s great for kids to be prepared for the many changes they will experience during adolescence. An excellent resource for getting prepared is Focus on the Family’s Launch Into the Teen Years. This resource discusses friendships, coping with bullies, managing technology, and adjusting to physical and sexual changes. You can find more information about teens at www.fotf.org.
Most importantly, remember that you don’t want to overwhelm your grandchild. Too many questions or suggestions at once could make it sound as if he or she should be preparing for a very difficult time in life. Middle school can be so much fun!
Start talking about the transition beginning the last semester of elementary school and throughout the summer. You can practice the different scenarios I have mentioned perhaps once per month so as not to overwhelm your grandchild.
I would start by sharing fun memories of middle school and then say something like, “Hey, do you want to talk about getting ready for middle school again?” If the answer is “yes”, share some wisdom. If the answer is “no”, respect that and say, “OK. We can talk about it another time.”