The Importance of the MIddle School Years

Photo by  Jonny McLaren  on  Unsplash

We all have memories of middle school - the excitement, the transition, the challenges. Middle school is just that - in the middle. Our kids are caught between the fun and playful elementary years and adolescence, where they develop into their own independent adult selves. It seems like there are headlines left and right about cutting back on recess, the need for more critical thinking in curriculum, and the push for a later start time for school so kids can get more sleep.

So knowing we already need to find the balance between play, academics and sleep, we also find ourselves navigating new territory (both kids and parents) with regard to relationships, emotions, and responsibility.

So much happens in the middle school years - how can parents support the growth and development? How can we nurture the fun and exploration as we watch our little cherubs emerge into independent adults?

On our most recent episode of Parenting Beyond the Headlines we spoke with Teri Schrader, Head of School at Watkinson School, about the importance of these years. Listen to the full podcast to get a sense of what it is to live in the culture of middle school, the issues they face, and the opportunities the experience offers.

Start Building Trust with Your Children Today

We all want to build that special relationship with our kids where whether they're celebrating, deliberating, or disappointed, they come to us to share in that experience. We want that trust with our kids, but trust doesn't build on its own. When parents want to build trust intentionally, it can be hard to know where to start. Consider: 

When have you built trust with your kids and how?, and 2) if you have not, what you can do to change that.

What Makes You Trust People or, Not?

Did you go to your parents when you needed to talk? Try to think back to the concerns and stresses you had when you were young. If you did go to your parents, why? When? If you didn't go to your parents for advice or to talk things through, why was that? Have you created similar barriers with your child? How might you start to break those barriers down? 

Acknowledgement Doesn't Equal Permissiveness

Teens and tweens are in a stage of pushing boundaries, learning about their own preferences, choice-making, and they're also experiencing strong emotions they may not be prepared to handle yet. The key is to impose appropriate consequences if your teen makes a bad or unsafe decision - and talk through the decision-making process. Sometimes the conversation is the appropriate consequence. Talk about alternatives or what healthy future choices might look like. Remember, we build trust through discussion, and it isn't a discussion if you don't equally listen and give a chance for response, disagreement, and compromise with your child. 

Photo by  Joe Yates  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joe Yates on Unsplash

What Does It Mean to Be A Trustworthy Person?

Another way of examining the type of environment you have created with your child is to analyze first on your own, what makes a person trustworthy? Ask your child what they consider makes someone trustworthy. Consider this list of characteristics:

  • empathetic

  • a good listener

  • honest

  • responsible

  • open

  • strong character

  • compassionate

Are you that person for your child? Point out the things you do intentionally to show them that they can trust you. If you identify areas in which you need to grow to be a more trustworthy person for your child, talk about that. For example, if you haven't been a good listener in the past, apologize and explain that you are working to be a better listener because you know that is important to a healthy relationship. 

How You React Matters

As parents, we each have unique personalities that react to situations differently. Part of building trust with your child is identifying how you are likely to respond in common situations, and finding ways to make sure that reaction is fair to your child. If you tend to react impulsively, give yourself a chance to pause and think through your response before committing to a stance on what your teen has brought up. If you tend to be quiet and struggle to contribute to conversations, practice modeling vulnerability, and openness. It can feel like a lot of pressure hearing that your reactions matter - but the reality is, you won't always react perfectly. What you can always do is apologize if you react in a way that hurts your child, and be vulnerable about how you plan to work on that response. 

You're Paving The Way for Future Healthy Relationships

Building trust with your children isn't just about you and them. When you model openness, pausing, active listening, apologizing, fairness, and trust, you're teaching your child what to look for in future friends and partners. 

Trust is a two-way street, so as you examine your current relationship with your child and think about plans to improve, involve them in that process. Sometimes just being open to ideas and sharing is enough. For example, you could say something like, "I read a blog today about building trust and how important it is to build with your kids. It gave me some ideas of ways we could communicate better and trust each other more." 

What are you currently doing to build trust? What’s working? What’s not?

Normalizing Trauma

Photo by  Tammy Gann  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tammy Gann on Unsplash

We’ve seen some recent high-profile suicides of people affected by the Parkland, Columbine and Newtown tragedies, including the father of a Sandy Hook victim, Jeremy Richman.

These deaths have happened amidst a health crisis: The CDC reports that the suicide rate for males and females has increased since 1975. The rates for females has doubled from 2007 to 2015.

In the most recent episode of Parenting Beyond the Headlines, Sarah Cody and I talked with Alicia Farrell, Cognitive Psychologist Specializing in family issues. She helped us better understand trauma and think through the idea of normalizing trauma to help us support loved ones and ourselves.


Talking About Specializing and Parent Involvement in Sports

Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

We are seeing kids’ sports taken to a new level. We often sign our kids up for sports to teach them some new physical and social skills, and I know I assume it’s good for them to be moving. Kids have a lot of pressure on them and this is one more thing - and perhaps not a healthy thing to add into the mix. An article in Hartford Courant questions when a child should - and if a child should - specialize in sports? And, a in a recent article, Science Daily suggests that “Rushing kids to specialize in one sport may not be best path to success.”

And while we’re on the subject, I have recently been shocked by the parent conversations and engagement during kids’ games. What do you do when you hear something inappropriate? Are you guilty of getting a little too excited?

In our podcast, Parenting Beyond the Headlines, Sarah Cody and I talked with Peter Vint, an internationally recognized expert in sport science, performance technology, and sport analytics about the topic. He offers great advice on how to think about our approach to sports as parents and how to encourage kids to think about their own goals.