Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
Are you suffering through life with a sullen preteen? Or do you have a mom friend who is going through it with her middler schooler while your sweet 5-year-old still hugs all over you? Filled with tips and research, a new book could be a huge help. Popular educator and blogger Michelle Icard has written Middle School Makeover, out today, to help you and your child survive through this emotional time. You may have heard of her website, Michelle in the Middle.
Keep reading to find out from Michelle why these preteen kids are so moody and tips for dealing with them. Also, Michelle says we parents of young kids can lay a foundation now for a sane preteen parent-child relationship later.
KK: Why do kids get so prickly right around the time they start middle school?
MI: Poor middle schoolers. They get a bad rap for their moodiness and attitude (and it’s true, they have both in spades), but the reason behind these prickly changes is really quite wonderful.
At about the time kids start middle school, between ages 10 to 12, they hit a developmental stage in which they must begin to develop an identity apart from their parents. Ultimately, this is what every parent wants, but it’s a messy project! When kids feel a pull toward independence – the very pull that will motivate them to do great things like go to college, get a job, and live on their own one day – it creates a lot of conflict in their daily lives. That pull toward independence is accompanied by self-doubt, fear, anxiety, excitement and pride. The “prickliness” that rubs parents the wrong way is a by-product of all these emotions coming out at the same time. As a parent of two middle schoolers, I know how frustrating it can be to deal with kids who act irrationally, but it helps to know that developmentally, they’re coming to terms with being their own person and that’s a complicated process.
KK: What can we parents do when our kids are younger to help create a lasting and trusting bond that can weather adolescence?
MI: I have two tips.
1. Don’t tie discipline to judgment. Kids pull away from their parents in middle school when they fear their parents will judge them or harp on their mistakes. With so many new situations coming at middle schoolers, they have reason to worry about looking inexperienced, foolish or just wrong. So kids tend to hide what they’re going through to camouflage their blunders. When kids understand from experience that they can make mistakes without judgment, they are more likely to talk with you about those mistakes for your guidance. This doesn’t mean that children don’t need consequences. Of course, they do. It simply means you deliver them unemotionally and without tying them to a reflection on your child’s character.
2. Kids who have had no practice in independent thinking prior to middle school will be confronted with a lot of social decisions they won’t know how to process, so they’ll likely end up going along with the group rather than thinking critically about options. Parents who let their younger kids practice making decisions, respectfully disagree, and make mistakes without humiliation earn their kids’ trust during the tricky middle school years and set up their kids to be better decision makers, as well. So let your younger child choose his own outfits, pick the restaurant for dinner from time to time, and decide how to organize the stuff in his room. His wacky choices may drive you a little crazy sometimes, but you’re setting yourselves up for a huge payoff down the road.
KK: What are the most common kid behaviors for parents to be aware of as they approach middle school? MI: Parents should expect kids to cocoon more in middle school. I can remember when I was in middle school, and when the weekend rolled around, I barely wanted to leave my room. I’m grateful my parents gave me time and space to recharge my batteries, explore my own thoughts and catch up on much needed sleep during this time. It can be hard for parents, though, when kids emerge from their rooms, if all they want to do is hang out with friends – either in real life or by text and social media. Realize that this, too, is normal. Developing an adult identity is a social project. Middle schoolers need to learn who they are in relation to their peers and that has to happen through interaction.
Also, be prepared for wild swings in your child’s maturity. One minute your little girl will pull out her dolls from the back of her closet, the next she’ll be sneaking on make-up before school. Establishing your adult identity is not a linear process. Support your child by letting her play with her younger and older identities without judgment.
KK: What’s one of the hardest parts of this age for kids? For parents?
MI: For kids, I think it’s being under constant evaluation by their peers. Every adolescent must complete a major construction project to become an adult. That construction project includes building an adult body, brain and identity. Remember walking the hallway at your middle school with all those eyes scrutinizing and evaluating your construction project? Were you developing too early, too late? Were you immature, too grown-up, a spaz, a geek, a nobody? I think the hardest and most exhausting part of being in middle school is wondering all day long, hundreds of times a day, “am I normal?”…and not knowing the answer.
From an adult’s perspective, I think one of the hardest parts of parenting a middle schooler is realizing that your child is at the mercy of a new social order and that your influence over how kids treat each other in the middle school social world is very limited. It is painful to watch kids fumble their way through this, and our instinct may be to “fix things” but it’s much more important to teach kids to fix their own social problems than to do it for them.
KK: What should we parents do to help?
MI: Piggy backing on this idea of not fixing things for our kids, one of the biggest paradigm shifts in parenting middle schoolers is that parents should evolve into the roll of “assistant manager” in their kids lives. Think of the best manager you’ve ever had and the qualities that person possessed that helped you be successful. Usually people list things like: having consistent communication, setting clear expectations, respecting my family life/personal life, giving me more responsibility, etc. Micromanagers are counter-productive to achievement but assistant managers are a great catalyst for success. Parents who learn to let go of the need to control their kids’ environments, social interactions and personalities find themselves happier and more fulfilled, as do their kids.
Michelle Icard is the creator of social leadership curriculum used in middle schools across the country. Visit her website MichelleintheMiddle.com for straight talk and practical tips on raising adolescents. Her book Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years, is available on Amazon.
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