The leap to middle school and high school is such a big moment — both for the children (although they would argue that they are not children anymore!) and parents alike. Gone are the days of sweet elementary school classrooms, ABCs, and themed lunchboxes, and in their place we look forward to big milestones such as first dances, first school sports teams, and a new kind of independence. This transition is often filled with anxiety and worry, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There are things that we, as parents, can do to help our new middle or high schooler feel confident as they walk in those doors for the first time — all the way until they walk out of them for the summer. The parenting doesn’t stop because they aren’t so little anymore! It simply adapts right alongside them.
As you head into the new school year, preparing for the new adventures ahead, we wanted to encourage you by sharing some tips to help make the start of the new year a little easier. To give your tween or teen the confidence they need, the extra love they crave (even if they say or act otherwise!), and to make your home a soft place to land. Keep reading, and be sure to share, too!
1. Do a run through before school starts.
Figure out together where you’ll drop them off and where you’ll pick them up, or where they’ll park. Show them where any practice fields or facilities are if they’re involved in extracurricular activities. If the school holds a new student orientation, let them find their locker and their classrooms. This helps all students feel a little more confident and comfortable with their new surroundings — simply by knowing what to expect.
2. Talk about (and practice) social skills.
Summer has a funny way of muddying social skills, so be sure to set aside some time to talk about the basics of social interaction. Body language, looking people in the eye when speaking, introducing friends to one another, introducing themselves, including others, and making conversation. These are skills that tweens and needs need to make friends and succeed in school.
To set your child up for success, it’s a good idea to give them a little reminder before the school year starts. Our manners courses for teen and tween boys and girls, A Young Man’s Guide to Manners and Etiquette Essentials for Girls have video lessons just on vital social skills. These courses are available to purchase for a limited time, and you can easily watch the short videos before school begins (as well as anytime once you purchase). Click here to learn more!
3. Remind them what it means to be a good friend.
Middle school and high school friendships can be tricky. But they don’t always have to be if we’re in constant dialogue with our children about what it means to be a good friend. Things like loyalty, honesty, trustworthiness, kindness, and inclusivity are topics that are not too big or abstract for this age. Talk with your child about the importance of these things — about how much they matter, both to others and for their own reputation. We have two blog posts that are great resources on this topic: The Etiquette of Friendship and How to NOT Be a Mean Girl. Our video courses also have a lesson on friendship!
4. Talk about classroom manners and phones.
Just because middle and high schoolers have a little more autonomy during their day does not mean that the basic manners that were expected of them in elementary school go out the window. In fact, more is expected of them and there’s a good chance their teachers will not be as patient. Remind them to look after themselves (push in chairs, throw away trash, and keep their locker tidy), be respectful to their teachers, and keep their phones and AirPods in their backpacks while they’re in class.
5. Create a welcoming home.
Our home should be a respite from the stresses of school. So create a place where tweens and teens want to come home to. That often involves food! But it also means giving them space when needed. When middle and high schoolers get home give them time to decompress before asking a million questions. Family rhythms are still important in the teen years. Consistent dinners together help bring about conversation about their day.
Our homes should be welcoming to their friends as well. Be the place for pizza on Fridays, where they can come to do homework or hang out on the weekends. The two keys to this are simple: Acceptance and snacks. Feed their hearts and accept them on their good days and bad ones, and be sure you have lots of snacks on hand to feed them on both!
6. Encourage them.
They go from mastering math facts to mastering social skills and emotions — encourage them as often as you can! Our most shared post ever on Instagram was where we talked about the phrases you can say as a parent that fill your child’s cup. Tell them you’re proud of them, what they’re good at, that you love spending time with them. Remind them how much you love being their mom! They need our love and support just as much now as they did when they were little. Hop over to our Instagram page to read through more phrases (and to keep some in your back pocket)!
7. Help them find opportunities to connect with others.
Older children desire connection with others — to feel like they have a place where they fit in and belong. Continue to be a student of your children and learn what interests them. Is it a sport? The arts? Reading? Encourage them to try out for track, the school play, or join a club that is interesting. Get them involved with a youth group or Bible study, or arrange a middle school meetup among your neighbors and friends. Help them find their tribe and give them positive, encouraging places to spend their time.
8. Allow them chances to practice independence.
Middle schoolers aren’t ready to fly just yet, and high schoolers are only a step ahead of them, but they need to learn how to spread their wings. If you’re always hovering while they do their homework, they won’t ever learn how to do it on their own. Let high schoolers email their teachers or guidance counselor when they have a question, not you. Moms are good at figuring things out but we need to teach our high schoolers to learn that skill as well. Starting in middle school give them opportunities to build their independence and problem solve. And praise them when you see them taking steps to do both.
9. Anticipate anxiety.
This was a tip we saw on the Raising Boys and Girls Instagram page, and it’s such a good reminder. Often, we as parents want everything to go perfectly for our children — and we forget that perfection is unattainable. It comes from a place of not wanting our children to get hurt, to worry, to have a bad day, to struggle with friendships. The reality is that we cannot protect them from any of those things, but we can equip them and anticipate when anxieties might run high. Come up with a plan together for when worries take over. Memorize a Bible verse (Philippians 4:6-7), talk about breathing techniques (try box breathing: three deep breaths in, three slow breaths out), determine if a hug or physical comfort helps, and make sure they know they can go to the school counselor if needed. Having a plan and knowing what to expect helps in times of anxiety immensely.
10. Be understanding.
There will be bad days. Struggles in the classroom. Tears over hurt feelings. Fights with friends. The best thing we can give our middle and high schoolers is our understanding — even in the moments when we really don’t understand at all. And trust us, there will be quite a few of those! Reminder that understanding can come in many forms, too. A listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a big hug at the end of the day, someone to laugh with, or simply saying, “I know, I understand.”
Moms of tweens, teens, and young adults — what would you add to this list? Nothing is too big or small! We’re all ears for those who have walked these roads before.