I teasingly tell people that I didn’t enjoy middle schoolers even when I was one. For some reason, I have always felt more comfortable with small children or adults. But with one child almost through the middle school years and another rapidly approaching them, I’ve found out that the middle school years can be a fun age, too.
While we have certainly had our share of growing pains, here are some things we have done that have helped us enjoy the past few years with our soon-to-be high school student:
1. Choices: We have gradually allowed our daughter more control in choices that affect her. And yes, this sometimes includes allowing her to make choices that don’t match our preferences. For some choices we give her free reign, such as how she chooses to arrange and decorate her room (which is VERY different from what I would choose myself!). For others, such as her clothing, we let her choose within parameters. My daughter can quote my saying on clothing: clean, no holes, and modest. But when she chose to spend a year wearing almost exclusively jeans and softball t-shirts, I bought her a dozen t-shirts and let it go. Allowing her to make the choice whenever possible has made the times we MUST make the choice much more palatable for her-though not entirely without argument!
2. School: Over the past two years we have gradually made some adjustments in our school routine that have reflected our daughter’s growing independence. At the start of her middle school years we still did most of her school work together, with much of it done as a family. Gradually I changed our methods to allow her the freedom to work on her own. As she approached the teen years I began handing her a list of assignments for the week and, so long as they are done by Friday afternoon, allow her to decide when to complete the assignments. We still meet each day for Bible, to work on math, and for me to go over any questions she has. While there is no getting around the need for basic school subjects, she now makes many of the decisions as to elective subjects as well.
3. Listening: My middle schooler loves to talk. And talk. And talk. While I’m not always interested in who said what to whom or how they looked when they said it, I take time to listen to what she has to say. I believe that listening to what seems like inconsequential chatter now will help us build our relationship for later on. And when my daughter did have something very important to say this year, I was thankful she felt comfortable enough to talk to me about it. At some point this line of communication could make a life-and-death difference for our child or one of her friends.
4. Interests: My daughter’s interests are very different from mine. At her age I adored babysitting and read everything I could get my hands on. My daughter dislikes reading and, while she loves babysitting for her two cousins, she is not particularly interested in small children in general. She happens to love softball and fashion-two subjects that I could really care less about. But, because they are important to my daughter, I have chosen to make it a point to learn about them as well. And, amazingly enough, I have found that I actually enjoy softball-at least watching it!
5. Responsibility: As our daughter has worked her way through the middle school years, we have gradually increased her freedom-but along with it, her responsibilities as well. A phrase my mother frequently used has made its way into my vocabulary as well: “This is a test.” We left her home for gradually increasing amounts of time. We began the process toward independent mall trips with her friends by staying in the mall and sending her off with a cell phone. As she has demonstrated she can be responsible with these “tests,” we have gradually increased her independence-to the point she could stay at home alone for longer periods of time or go to the mall with her friends by herself.
I’m not sure that letting go of our children is ever going to be easy. I still sigh as I look back at pictures of my daughter with pigtails and a baby teeth-filled smile. But I find myself admiring the beautiful young woman she is becoming, and I see glimpses of the adult relationship we will one day enjoy. I hope that you will appreciate the middle school years, as well.
Are you the parent of a middle schooler? Share your tips for these years in the comments!
Originally published at hedua.com.