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The Informed Parent

What Happened To My Sweet Child?

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Aug. 07, 2006
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Something happens to boys and girls between the time they leave elementary school in June and enter middle school in the fall. Parents shake their heads wondering where the sweet child they knew went. Kids themselves are bewildered. Nothing seems the same.

Middle school is a time of transition socially, emotionally, and academically. Hormonal changes take place. Friendships change. Expectations shift. What once appeared somewhat predictable now looks like chaos.

In school, students who have had one or perhaps two teachers during the academic year now move from class-to-class several times a day. They experience teachers with different expectations. Homework increases.

Students have greater freedom. Opportunities for socializing between classes exist. Lunch break is less structured than it was in elementary school. Cliques emerge, and who is included or excluded changes by the day. The opposite gender appears more interesting, and a pecking order of popularity grows.

The term "tween" has been used to describe middle schoolers. They are no longer children. They have not entered or have just barely entered adolescence. These in-between kids think they are quite grown up. Many are also anxious.

While parents may tear their hair out at the changes taking place, now is the time to pay serious attention to effective parenting. Sometimes parents believe that life will run more smoothly if they become a friend with their child. This is the time when parents need to truly be parents. Middle schoolers do not have the experience or wisdom to live as freely or to make as many choices as they would like.

So what's a parent to do? The following suggestions will assist in making the transition from childhood to the middle school years easier.

Tell you child that you understand she is older and wants more freedom. Let her know that both of you will work together in making choices. As she shows how capable she has become, greater amounts of freedom will be given.

Set realistic boundaries including chores to be completed, a homework schedule, telephone and TV time, and bedtime. They should be different from those for younger children in the family. Establish the routine together with the parameter that you have the final say.

Be aware of what your youngster watches on TV and what she does on the computer. Do not be afraid to say what is inappropriate and not allowed. Know your child's friends. Be aware of where she goes and whom she is with after school. If she goes for a sleepover, meet the parents. Make sure adults will be home the whole time.

Know what goes on at school. Attend parent conferences or evenings planned for parents. Attend sporting events and performances where she participates. Keep abreast of academic achievement. This takes more work on your part than during the elementary years.

Establish a time each day for talking. Ask open-ended questions such as "What did you enjoy most about today?" Conversations do not have to be long nor should they be grilling. If your child doesn't want to talk much, tell her about your day. When kids know that you're interested and not snooping, they usually enjoy your attention.

Be patient. This is not an easy time for your child or you. She needs your support as she experiences the transitions taking place.

Seek support for yourself. Sometimes parents need a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, or someone who can give needed information. Talk to a trusted friend, the pediatrician, or a counselor. Middle school personnel know these kids well. Discuss any concerns with a teacher, the principal, or the school counselor.

The middle school years are a time of rapid maturation. With boundaries, acceptance, guidance and support "tweens" grow into stronger people and students. Without it, they flounder and seek inappropriate ways of getting their needs met.




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