Middle school is a huge transition.
It’s that time in life when your kid is stepping out of the relative comfort of elementary school and into those strange few years before high school.
It’s important to remember that the middle school years are highly emotional for most kids. As a parent, you might feel unequipped and unprepared to walk with your kid through this stage. Some, if not all, of what you do might be met with an eye roll, a “yeah, I already know that, Mom,” or even a brush off.
That’s fairly normal. The best thing you can do is simply be ready to talk when the opportunity arises. As your preteen transitions into middle school, be thinking about how you can work in these four conversations.
1. Tell me about some of the things and people you do and don’t like right now.
This question is simple enough. The idea is just to get to know your child a little better. The sixth grade version of your son may be completely different than the fourth grade version—and you might not have even realized it.
If he isn’t talking as much about basketball as he used to, this will give you the chance to find out why. If she hasn’t mentioned hanging around Grace in a few months, you might be able to learn about what happened.
This might not be the time to “fix” everything and make it all better. It might just simply be a good time for a healthy conversation that allows you to know your child better and be prepared for other situations that might arise.
2. Where do you feel you are most often misunderstood?
Middle schoolers are primarily motivated by acceptance. When they feel you have their back, they may be more willing to open up and share with you. That’s what can make this stage more complicated for parents. You want them to confide in you, but you also have to make sure you are instilling values and discipline in them.
This question might allow them to share about a time they felt you were completely off the mark on where they were coming from. Maybe they wanted to stay up later after a long evening of homework, simply to have a little free time before bed, but you held fast to bedtime. Or maybe you completely misunderstood an argument between them and a sibling. Whatever the case, talking about this now, instead in the heat of the moment, will hopefully allow you both to explain your side without emotions getting in the way—and be better prepared for a similar situation next time it happens.
3. What are you most excited/fearful about going into middle school?
You know what middle school is like because you’ve been there. But, both good and bad, your preteen has no idea what’s coming. They may only know what they’ve heard, maybe stories from rising seventh graders or older siblings that may or may not be the whole truth.
Get a feel for the moment and throw this question out there when it’s the right time. You might be surprised at how honest your middle schooler will be. They might not have ever thought about the question before, or it might be something they’ve been brooding over since the start of fifth grade.
Encourage whatever they are excited about and make sure to help them dig into what causes their fears. It could be something that’s totally unrealistic (like all the sixth grade teachers hate students!). Or, if their fears are based in truth, you’ll know ahead of time to continue working with them and looking for red flags throughout the year.
4. What do you need from me this year?
Predictability is never as important as it is during this stage. Middle schoolers need you to do what you say you are going to do, and to do it consistently. And the same goes for when you say you aren’t going to do something.
They might simply want a little more space this year. As a parent, you should be aware that you’re probably going to embarrass them more often than not, even when you aren’t telling nerdy dad jokes. If they want their space at the pool or during morning drop off, respect that.
Whatever it is, you might be surprised at how tuned in your child is to what they need from you. Listen to them and try to understand where they’re coming from. And, as long as it’s appropriate, respect their wishes.
The middle school years are full of all types of new experiences as your child grows both physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Embrace those changes and be prepared to walk with them through these transitional years.
Your preteen may or may not be open with you about what’s going on in their lives. The important thing is that you’re ready to talk with them when the opportunity comes.