Middle school can be a difficult time for students, one with big changes, new levels of independence and opportunities for growth and discovery. All of that change can be scary – for students and for parents.
However, Jason McIntosh, Dean of Roeper Middle & Upper School Admissions, believes it is also very exciting. “They enter middle school as children and leave as teens or young adults,” says McIntosh. “Other than in the first few years of their lives, this is the time when children are the most transformed.”
The key to making it an overall positive experience for your child – and yourself – is to be prepared and help usher your children through some of the innate challenges of this transitional time in their lives. Here, the experts at The Roeper School offer some guidance:
1. Let them find themselves
Middle school can be a very challenging time for students. There are a lot of social pressures as they develop a sense of self and their own uniqueness. “They are in constant evaluation of who they are, what and who they like, what makes a good friend, how they fit in, how their body is changing, what they like to do, how they are perceived, what kind of learner they are and so much more,” says McIntosh. “We want this, we let it happen, and we’re here for them when they need us.”
2. Provide a safe environment
Safety is most important at The Roeper School, a school that specializes in educating gifted children. “They are in a safe and nurturing environment with like-minded children their age, who are also experiencing the asynchronous development of a gifted child,” says McIntosh. Middle school students don’t always want to talk with their parents, but at The Roeper School, “teachers are not only experts in their field, but experts in working with gifted children, who are interested to know their students as individuals and give them the freedom to try, pursue and embrace.”
3. Be patient with your child
It’s normal for kids in middle school to push the limits, notes Brian Corley, Roeper Middle School Director. While it may be frustrating as a parent to have your sweet kid acting so differently, it’s important to remain supportive and have empathy. “They are going through physical and social changes at the same time. They’re not kids anymore, but they aren’t adults yet either. It’s hard for them to decide who they are at any given moment and they often feel uncomfortable in their own skin. They have a lot going on and parents shouldn’t underestimate that.”
4. Recognize academic challenges
As if self-discovery wasn’t enough of a task, there are academic challenges as well. While in elementary school, students usually have a homeroom teacher who teaches the bulk of their coursework each day. In middle school, this changes. Students move from one teacher to another for classes throughout the day. The course load itself is more rigorous as well, according to McIntosh. “Quizzes become tests become exams. The concept of earning a grade is introduced, collaboration continues while independence is increasing, and expectations are higher without a doubt.”
While difficult and at times overwhelming, the challenges of middle school provide students with opportunities to help them build a foundation for success. “They get overwhelmed by their courses at first, but then they learn. They are able to make mistakes and to fail, and then learn from it. They learn to be more organized, to self-advocate, and to prioritize,” says Corley.
5. Provide support and encouragement
With that in mind, Corley urges parents to “trust the educators in this building.” At Roeper, the faculty and staff communicate constantly about each child, focusing on both their academic and social well-being. They structure their curriculum to do more than just teach a subject, but to also teach important life skills. “Group work, sometimes with kids who don’t necessarily like each other, helps them learn to cooperate with all sorts of people. Tasks that are more challenging help them learn to persevere and to seek help when they need it,” says Corley.
“You know your child best, so communicate not only with them, but with their teachers,” says Corley, who has worked in middle schools for 10 years. He also advises parents to help their kid out of their comfort zone.
“Help and support your kid if they are struggling, and if they’re not struggling, help them get into something they don’t naturally excel at. It’s good for kids to know what it feels like to not be the best at things, and to have to work at something to get better. It teaches them perseverance.”
As you and your child adjust to middle school, McIntosh further emphasizes the importance of providing a strong support system. “For students to feel safe and confident to discover who they are, what they’re passionate about, what’s different about them than their peers, they need to feel as though they are well known, trusted and supported by the adults in their life.”