I asked my colleague Anna to give some advice about starting middle school. She is a school psychologist, and the single mother of a son entering 8th grade. If you’ve looked through the book, No More Children Left Behind, I talk about Anna and her gift for standing up for others — parents and students. Here is what she has to say about the expectations of middle school:
Middle school teachers appreciate parents who are involved with their children, communicate with teachers, and take part in the school community. Many parents pull back during the middle school years, and become much less involved in school and the school community. It’s hard to be a strong partner with teachers, because kids this age aren’t thrilled about parents coming to school, so parents who manage to stay involved are much appreciated!
But middle school teachers worry about parents who “hover”. Parents who do everything for their children and try to keep their children from ever experiencing a failure, an obstacle, a struggle, or a negative consequence are not doing their kids a favor. Anna says, “While it’s hard, we have to let children experience failure if they are ever going to see how it feels to be really successful.” Parents have to let their children take the consequences for tardies, missing homework, and misbehavior. They have to support their children as they struggle with the academic and social demands of middle school — but not run interference for them. Middle school kids will probably have some failure experiences — they don’t make the basketball team, or they don’t make the honor roll. Parents need to help their kids learn how to handle the bad stuff, learn from it, and move on. They still need to talk with teachers and ask questions, but middle schoolers need some room to experience the consequences of their decisions and learn about their personal strengths and weaknesses.
If something happens at school that parents disagree with or are bothered by, the best thing to do is set up a conference with the teachers and go in to discuss it. Middle school teachers are happy to meet with parents, but it can take a bit more time to arrange a conference because more than one teacher is involved. Parents should not just show up at school unless it’s an emergency, and they certainly shouldn’t get angry and yell at teachers in front of the students. Start with a teacher conference, and then go to a school administrator if the problem is not resolved at the classroom level.
Student support staff can also be very helpful to middle school parents. Most middle schools have a guidance counselor on staff, and a school psychologist who also serves the school. School social workers and school resource officers can be helpful if students are having problems in the community. Middle school is a time when some students start to display delinquent behavior, mental health problems, truancy, or involvement with drugs and alcohol. Ask for help before the problems are chronic!! And be aware that behavior problems are taken much more seriously at this level — police are often called if students are physically aggressive, and administrators are more likely to suspend students for breaking school rules.
Most teachers will tell you that the make-or-break years for students occur in middle school. This is when students stay motivated and engaged in school, or lose interest in school and in their education. Problems that end with dropping-out of high school often begin with truancy, academic failure, and behavior problems in middle school.
So what can parents do to help their child be successful in middle school? Here are some ideas:
-Support school rules and school discipline! Students who do not respect authority and follow rules in school often turn into adults who do not stay on the right side of the law. It’s not a good path.
-Support your child, but give him the opportunity to experience the consequences of his actions and decisions. Mistakes made in middle school do not follow a student forever; mistakes made in high school can be much more permanent. Protect your child’s future and let them make their mistakes now!
-Stay involved in the school community. Talk to teachers. Volunteer how and when you can! Go to events and be a cheerleader. Stay on top of homework and grades, even as you allow your student to have more responsibility.
-If your child starts to experience any behavioral or social problems, intervene quickly and intensely. Ask for help and follow up on suggestions.
The middle school years are probably the most difficult ones for everyone — students, parents, and teachers. So many changes are going on, and emotions are high. It’s a time when parents and teachers really need to communicate and work as a team, because it’s a time when kids choose their path — for better or for worse. It takes a village!
Our very own education specialist Alice Wellborn is now a regular contributor at FlyLady.net and we are thrilled to share her wise words with all of you. Alice is a school psychologist and the author of the amazingly helpful book No More Parents Left Behind.
Get the book at:http://www.nomoreparentsleftbehind.com/
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