Remember middle school? Those happy years when childhood starts to melt away and the promise of being a teenager sits on the horizon? With changes in height, voice, skin, and hair, we watch our children as they are initiated into the wonderful world of hormonal change. But middle school is about more than hanging out at the mall and dealing with parents who are no longer cool in the eyes of their kids. Being in middle school also means rising expectations, both in the areas of academics and personal responsibility. It’s important for us to remain connected to our kids, which can be hard if they want nothing to do with us. Middle school-aged kids need the love and support they had as small children, they just need us to change the way we deliver that love and support. The pre-teen years are just another challenge for parents, like potty training or tying shoes. Here are some ideas for staying connected to your middle schooler and continuing to be a positive influence.
Cook together. We all have to eat and food preparation is a skill that often passes through the generations. Maybe it’s time to see if Grandma is willing to share her secret recipe for homemade pesto and make it with your middle schooler. When cooking something new you get to learn the ins and outs of a new dish, and you get to make mistakes and problem solve. Make this a monthly or weekly ritual, take turns picking recipes, and see how your relationship can grow.
Start a book club. If your middle schooler is inclined to engage in literary delights, see what they do with the idea of a book club. Let your kid select the book you read, and work together to decide who you’d like to invite into your club. Or keep it just mother/daughter or father/daughter – even if it’s just the two of you, it’s still a club. You could meet in someone’s home or make it a special night out where you dress up and enjoy a fancy dinner discussing the merits of the latest novel. And the best part? You can discuss underlying themes that present themselves in the book, such as those that question morals and values. Books are a great way to initiate conversations that might otherwise be difficult to get started.
Plan your next family trip together. Invite your middle schooler to select a location for a trip. Talk to them about options for places to visits, how you’ll get there, what sort of budget you have for the trip, and what you’ll do when you reach your destination. Allow your child to make a few of the major decisions and watch them get excited about doing something special for the family.
Engage in a service activity. Service learning is gaining in popularity and it’s not surprising why. Young people who participate in a service activity are gaining leadership skills and a work ethic. Other benefits include the satisfaction of giving back and participating in an activity that gives them a time to shine. The result can be boosted confidence and a feeling that their efforts in the world make a difference. This can have a huge impact on the self-esteem of any young person!
Share a journal. Did you keep a diary or journal when you were a kid? Was it the safe place you wrote your secrets? Maybe you still keep one now. A journal is a space where we can reflect openly and honestly. A shared journal gives you and your child an opportunity to write back and forth to each other. There are many people who communicate better through writing than in face-to-face conversation. We can put more time into what we want to say when we write and we may be even a little more honest. Enhance your communication with a few ground rules that you make together, primarily that the journals contents are private, only to be shared between specific people, and you can decide if the topics brought up in the journal are open for face-to-face discussion. Adding the dimension of written words to your relationship can help it to blossom now and in the years to come.
Engaging your middle schooler and allowing him or her to express an area of interest is a worthwhile task. Have fun and enjoy your children where they are in their livesnow! The middle school years won’t last forever, but our nurtured connections will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of happily shared experiences.
Sara Marchessault is the former owner of a summer camp for middle school girls. She has spent many hours getting to know middle school girls, listening to their dreams and their fears, and encouraging them that their parents are not really the enemy. When she isn’t playing with her own kids, Sara is a writer, professor, and coach.