Parenting a Middle Schooler Means Letting Them Fail Sometimes
The middle school brain is an interesting- and somewhat scary- place. As parents, we must keep this in mind when we make decisions about how involved we are in the day to day happenings of our kiddos in school. And by “involved,” I really mean, how much are we swooping in to save their little butts?
The tendency to want to save your kids is almost a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t like to see my kids upset. It’s painful to see my kids fail. We all want to fix things- it’s kind of what we do as moms and dads. However, remember that it is our job as parents to ensure that we are raising responsible and increasingly independent people that will (gasp!) be contributing members of society before too long.
So when it comes to school, when do you step in as a parent and when do you let your kiddo fall flat on his or her face? There are a lot of factors that go into that decision, but I will share with you some general guidelines.
Be Your Kid’s Life Coach
This is kind of how I see myself now. Rather than telling my middle school son what to do all the time, I try to talk him through situations and help him see what his options are. I want him to feel empowered to make his own decisions.
One of his school responsibilities now is practicing for band every night, filling out a practice sheet, and getting my signature. At the beginning of the year I asked him what kind of system he thought he should have in place for that. (Do you want to keep this in your planner or in your room? When will you ask me to sign this?)
I need him to feel the consequences- positive and negative- of his actions. Fortunately for me, my son happens to love school and is generally pretty responsible. For kids who struggle more in this area, I realize you may have to be more of a boss than a life coach.
Allow the Teachable Moments to Happen
Every day is full of teachable moments. I try to remind my son (and myself) that there are lessons to be learned in every situation, both good and bad.
My son has an elective that alternates between computers and gym every six weeks. The computer class is self-paced so the students need to be pretty independent. Earlier in the year, he got quite far behind and ended up having to crank out half of his assignments in the final week of class. I resisted the urge to contact his teacher and ask for an extension. Or to criticize him for expecting that much independence from a bunch of 12 year olds. Or to ask why we weren’t contacted earlier about his lack of progress. Why? Because that’s not life.
The teacher is in charge, it’s not my grade, and my son needed to feel that uncomfortable feeling. By allowing that situation to play out on its own, my son learned some valuable life lessons about time management, responsibility, and handling independence.
Focus on the Big Picture When Considering Your Child’s Actions
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time picturing my son as an adult (though it does become easier the closer he gets to passing me in height!). I try to always keep the thought in the back of my mind though and ask myself, what kind of a man do I want him to be?
I want him to be responsible. I want him to be kind. I want him to be independent. I want him to be happy. I want him to be resilient. I want him to work hard. I want him to be responsible with his money. I want him to make the world a better place.
If I am remembering these “big picture” goals for him, it helps guide me through the day-to-day decisions. If these are the qualities I want to see in him as a man, I need to teach him those things now.
Middle school can feel like a bit of a crazy time. Try and see the difficult situations and decisions that you face as a parent as opportunities. And if that doesn’t work, find yourself a great group of friends that can offer you some moral support! Remember, you’re not alone in this journey of parenting a middle schooler!