When I first set out to write about my son’s transition to middle school, my words would have been written lighter or carried less weight. There would have been a different emotion felt to discuss his elementary school graduation and his arrival to middle school.
But the world changed.
What I thought a normal middle school day would be like for him and countless other students is no more.
As both an educator and a parent, I am here to bestow some advice for your upcoming middle schooler. Regardless of how this school year will start, masked up in the classroom, or maybe brand new to homeschooling, we as parents still have to make this year great for them.
Middle School Holds the Most Important Years
When it comes to preparing for middle school, you probably have the essentials. There’s no need to discuss what types of clothes to wear (something clean and fits their personality by the way) or where to catch the school bus (the school can provide you with this information). We need to focus on your back-up plan if schools close again and how to support your child as they return to a new dystopian school setting.
As an educator, I can tell you that middle school holds the most important years for your child. There is way less hand-holding, a huge leap into unique social situations, and the beginning of students really finding themselves before entering high school and exiting into adulthood.
Below are suggestions to help your child navigate their first year of middle school or to provide more support to those seventh and eighth graders who are also starting over this year.
Supporting Your Middle Schooler
Keep Them Socially Interacting
Regardless of what schooling option you choose as a parent, your child will feel isolated. Many parents need to realize normal classes have changed and limited social interaction was an unfortunate consequence. As parents, we have to make sure our children are not neglected socially and still able to create meaningful social interactions.
We have to start by finding the answers to these questions. How will you provide that positive peer interaction your child needs regardless if they’re a social butterfly or a lonely wallflower? How will you check in with them to ensure that bullying or harassment is not happening virtually or in-person? Will they still engage in sports or clubs or will you social distance with a neighboring family to provide this support?
I encourage you to have them join a virtual club or foster a hobby. Numerous organizations are providing online Zoom sessions, dance and art lessons, or trips to unique attractions around the world. Funny enough, we may find this generation of children returning to digital pen pals.
Create A Digital Scrapbook
As children get older, we tend to not have many highlight reels as we did when they were babies and toddlers. With many of us now having more time on our hands regardless if we asked for it or not, we should take this time to record their accomplishments, mundane joys, or even their lows and how they climbed out of these slumps. You can log their life easily all from your phone. You can store these memories by creating scrapbook pages together or writing entries of their strength within an online journal to be shared in the future.
Now more than ever, we need to record our children and show how they are survivors in this new world. Who knows how the school year may end, but won’t it feel good to look back at the many pictures, videos, or voice recordings showing how they survived it. Let’s return to saving every middle school first, project, and art painting as we did with every homemade arts and craft and hand painting from kindergarten.
Remind Them This Too Shall Pass
Finally, let’s make sure we are supporting them mentally. As I was wrapping up last school year and talking to parents, I noticed that many of our conversations were centered around making up for the lost school time, the difficulties of Zooming and using other tech tools, or personally for me the fact that we’re eating through food twice as fast.
It’s even more important now to really engage and talk to your child about school, how they feel, and what’s going on in their world. It’s important to do frequent mental health check-ins and see how they feel.
At one point, my son wouldn’t even breathe the outside air terrified of getting the virus. I found myself having to sit down with him more often during the summer to explain what’s happening and to remind him that this too shall pass.
Our children have the weight of their world on their shoulders and while they may not be able to understand the significance of all that is happening, it still affects them. I encourage you to invest in social-emotional learning activities to be completed at home.
One day there will be a new normal
I have never been more unsure of what these next months or years will hold. I have prepared myself and my family to the best of my ability, and I am sure you have also prepared in whatever manner you have chosen. One day there will be a new normal, but we can’t be so fixated on returning to the old normal or waiting for the new normal that we neglect our child, their social life, or their mental health during this time.
In closing, I leave you with this advice. Go forth and make this their best school year ever regardless of the chaos that swirls around us.