Asked about the kookiest things their middle schoolers do,
parents listed these:
One moment she's the cuddly kid you've always known, the next
she is a surly face you barely recognize at the dinner table. The
biggest issue at school is no longer getting a yellow card for not
raising her hand before talking. It's mean girls, wobbly grades,
new friends you've never met and teachers you don't know.
No matter how prepared we think we are, the changes that occur
in middle school still catch us a bit off balance.
"In sixth grade, the biggest transition was that struggle
between how much do you let them go on their own and kind of feel
their way and how much do you step in," says mom of three, Patti
Minglin of Aurora. "I don't think I ever did figure that out, quite
While it's difficult to deal with all the changes-don't even
mention the hormones-it's worse when you feel powerless to help
your child make this important transition from the small pond of
elementary school to the big pond of middle school.
So we reached out to an expert for some down-to-earth advice and
tips for helping our kids through these changes. Not only is
Jeffrey Gersten a dad in the trenches with us, he's a licensed
clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children and
adolescents at the Gersten Center for Behavioral Health located on
Loyola's Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus in Melrose Park.
The issues he says he sees in the middle school years stem from
kids trying to figure out who they are, where they fit in and how
they are changing.
"I think overall the issues with middle school are always going
to be related to the overall struggle for independence and
dependency," he writes.
His top tips for parents:
Be there for emotional support and encouragement. A parent
cannot make a child's struggle with how he sees himself regarding
his peers and academic abilities go away, Gersten says, but parents
can be there to help their children see how they can handle some of
the situations on their own. "Never forget the value of praising
your child's accomplishments on any level, and when they have a
disappointment in regards to grades or sports, etc., don't feel the
need to sugarcoat everything. Let them talk about how it felt and
validate those feelings, and help the child develop a plan towards
achieving whatever goal they have," he writes.
Minglin says the best advice she ever received when her daughter
was in middle school was to keep in mind that everything her
daughter said was really important to her really was important to
"When she came to me with things that were a big issue, I let
her say they were a big issue and kind of let her get through that
and we could talk about it. The minute I started to say, 'oh come
on,' then she shut down."
We've heard it a million times, but it's true: Keep talking with
your kids. Gersten suggests starting conversations about peer
issues, such as peer pressure, gossiping and backstabbing, and
teaching your kids to stand up for themselves. "Children will
inevitably make mistakes in this area, and parents can help them
figure out how to rectify mistakes, such as by apologizing."
Role play problems that can arise with teachers and peers and
practice ways to solve them, he suggests. And as hard as it might
be, he says "parents need to be mindful not to 'pester' their
children to tell them everything, while at the same time letting
them know that they are there for them if needed."
Talk about changes your child will be experiencing. Keep it
positive. And remember, emotional changes cannot be seen so give
your child "a bit of slack" if they appear moody or irritable at
times, he says.
Help increase organization skills. Set routines for morning,
after school and evening. Write out easy-to-follow tasks and help
them succeed with them, including shadowing them in the
Tamara is the editor of Chicago Parent and mom of three.
See more of Tamara's stories here.
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