Parenting a middle schooler can leave you wondering if anyone else experiences the things that go on in your house, and why you are SO tired!
Throughout my life, I’ve had the opportunity to have lots of contact with middle schoolers (6th-8th grade, or age 11-13). Before we had kids, my husband and I worked with our church’s youth group. I student taught middle schoolers in college, and went on to teach violin to middle schoolers for several years at a local private school. Now I’m the parent of a middle schooler. Middle school can be a crazy time, but there is so much to love about middle schoolers!
In no particular order, here are 10 things that we are learning about parenting middle schoolers!
1. Middle schoolers and toddlers are alike in the fact that you never know what little thing is going to turn in to a big issue. It’s definitely surprising to re-visit a stage which involves unpredictable meltdowns, but the good thing is that they still go to bed before you do, which allows time for ice cream or chocolate after they are asleep. Also, I think it’s really helpful to find a friend who has kids that are slightly older than yours and can encourage you about which things are “just a phase.”
2. Bigger shoes and bigger clothes are definitely more expensive!
3. Feeding a middle school boy is a full time job. Teaching them to cook and wash dishes is a good thing. Mine is also learning some mad shopping cart skills, which really helps when I’m loading up at Costco with all five kids along. It takes talent to turn a cart full of two little kids riding and a week’s worth of groceries without dumping the mega pack of paper towels and diapers from the bottom of the cart!
4. It’s never a good idea to decide on a consequence while angry. Middle schoolers do unpredictable things with crazy results that they honestly didn’t intend. There might need to be repercussions, but they can be sorted out once everyone is calm. And the middle schooler might actually be more teachable then too.
5. There are going to need to be talks about hygiene, so you might as well just get comfortable with it now.
6. Middle schoolers alternate between wanting to be treated like an adult and wanting to remain a child. It’s hard to know which they’re going to need that day, but the good news is that you have a 50% chance of getting it right! My biggest success in the past few months was buying him a stuffed minion when he was not along with us at Build-a-Bear. It was a gamble, but I won! Mother of the Year!
7. The child who wants to tell you every detail of everything that ever happens is going to WEAR. YOU. OUT. when he gets to middle school. But believe it or not, this is much more useful to you at this stage of development than the child who won’t say anything.
8. Here’s a useful phrase to teach your middle schooler: “I don’t understand this yet.” This is helpful when the middle school mind jumps to assumptions of how dumb everyone is. I used this one when my son was explaining to me how the writers of his math textbook were teaching him to take a simple multiplication problem and turn it into a complicated mess with “like 10” steps instead of one. “You don’t understand this yet,” I told him. “You don’t see how this will help you because you don’t know what’s coming in 8th and 9th grade math. But believe it or not, the writers of this text book actually have a plan in mind to help you understand math better.” (The lesson was on the commutative and associative properties, and we got it figured out!)
9. Parenting a middle schooler requires just about as much energy as parenting a toddler. (See points 1-8.) They have outgrown things like eating dog food, so that’s good. But then they move onto things like skateboarding and wanting to build ramps in the street, so there’s that. There’s also the fact that they have more social events and activities that you’ll need to drive them to and pick them up from, including youth group events that end at 10:00 p.m. *Yawn!*
10. DO remember to look for the positives in the midst of all the goofy things your offspring might do at this stage! In the midst of this rollercoaster ride called middle school, you are going to experience moments when you are really proud of your middle schooler and the man he is becoming! Those gems are going to help you keep going! When my husband left for a business trip this past spring, I had a terrible cold. My middle schooler wiped up his brother’s bottom so that I didn’t have to get up and then asked, “What else do you need me to do, Mom?”
BONUS TIP: Your middle schooler actually still cares about what you think! This is not the stage to give up and disengage or to allow behavior that you are not comfortable with simply because you are afraid of what they’ll do. They need your guidance more than ever now, even if they don’t ask for it in very loving ways. Middle schoolers tend to be very black and white in their thinking, with an exaggerated view of their own abilities. They are going to learn to understand the world better, but it’s going to take a lot of long, exhausting conversations before they get there.
Hang in there, parents of middle schoolers!
P.S. My husband and I have really enjoyed reading the book Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp (Amazon affiliate link). Christian parents, this is a must-read! Get it before your kids are teens. I’d say reading when your oldest child hits age 9-10 is ideal, and then re-read it again when you get to middle school and beyond. This book is full of practical help in relating to your teen and helping them to understand God’s plan for them.