The differences between an elementary-age child and a middle schooler are crystal clear. Some parents feel like their child’s disposition changed overnight between fifth and sixth grade, while others notice more subtle pushes for independence over time. Regardless, the reality hits you that your son or daughter will soon become a teen, and then a young adult … and you realize that you want to make the most of these developmental years.
As a parent, you already have a vision for your child as they grow. You want your teen to be confident, mature, and personally responsible for making sound decisions. You want them to discover their God-given passions and to utilize their skills to make a difference in the world. You want them to communicate well — with you and others — and to prioritize healthy relationships. Most importantly, you want them to live in a Christ-honoring way.
How can you help your middle schooler develop the key life skills they need as they step into their teenage years? Here are a few ideas:
Help them prioritize.
With so many new opportunities on the horizon, your pre-teen will quickly realize that they can’t do everything that seems appealing. They’ll have increasingly challenging schoolwork, new activities to try, athletic opportunities, and numerous social gatherings to attend. Rather than defining the priorities yourself and dictating what they are, talk to your pre-teen and get an understanding of what they value most. From there, you can create a framework for prioritizing time together and staying committed to what matters most.
Teach time management skills.
While interactive calendar apps are a dime a dozen, some pre-teens may need to get back to the basics while they master time management. Making an analog list with good old-fashioned pen and paper is a much easier way for young learners to visualize their schedules and responsibilities without getting overstimulated. Pencil in everything — wake time, school, extracurricular activities, meals, study hours, rest time, and bed. Sticking to a routine creates calm, something your pre-teen will need during big life changes.
Have patience while they discover the value of organization.
It’s easy for parents to get frustrated when their middle schoolers neglect to tidy their rooms, forget important school items, and misplace valuable possessions. However, judging and griping at them likely won’t help. Instead, allow them to observe the natural consequences of a disorderly life (using their own money to replace a lost item, receiving a poor grade, etc). Also, consider that the prefrontal cortex of their brain is still rapidly developing, and some organization issues are not carelessness, but rather skills that still need to be learned. You can learn more about your middle schooler’s brain development by downloading our e-book “Understanding the Mind of a Middle Schooler.”
Discover their study needs.
Gone are the days of completing quick homework assignments around the dinner table. As your child moves toward middle school, high school, and college, they’ll have to master independent studying. Some learners need a quiet, consistent space free from distractions. For others, silence is deafening, and things like background music, a fidget toy, or even a new environment can really help with motivation. When you and your child understand how they can most effectively study and retain information, school projects, tests, and quizzes become a lot less stressful.
Listen to them without judgement.
Middle school will bring a wide variety of new challenges. Your child will be discovering more about anchoring their identity in Christ and working out their own faith. They will be navigating new and more complex friendships. And inevitably, their school work will become more rigorous as they start to think about how education will play a role in reaching their future goals. Now more than ever, they need someone to listen objectively as they develop the skills for self-advocacy. It may be tempting to try to solve all their problems, but take a step back and seek to understand their unique struggles, needs, and desires first. This is often called “active listening” and you can read more about it, as well as other tips for maintaining a positive relationship with your teen, here. You can also help them practice how they will respond in certain situations by role-playing, which allows them to develop confidence and communication skills without the anxiety of being in the moment.
Looking for a school to partner with you?
At Gaston Christian School, we are not only preparing middle schoolers for high school and college, we are equipping them for life. Come learn more about our approach to education and how we can serve as an active partner to your family during these ever-important years of growth.