Last week I talked about the logistical challenges incoming middle schoolers face: multiple teachers, multiple classrooms, pesky lockers, short passing times, no recess to name a few. The second most common area for worry is the social challenge. Instead of the same group of kids in a single classroom, there are many more students at least half of whom your student will not know. Worries about making friends, eating alone, bullying become more prominent during this stage in a student’s life.
The good news is that as daunting as it may all seem, there is a silver lining. Being in multiple classrooms means there are multiple opportunities for friends – both old and new. This is a time in your child’s life that being part of a group is very important as they start pulling away from you. Sometimes name calling and bullying lessen as there is a much larger pool of students.
Here are some things that might help.
•Encourage your student to continue with current activities such as youth groups or extramural sports teams. This will maintain some consistency and comfort. •At the same time, encourage your child to join clubs, teams and other extracurricular activities. •Discuss things that encourage good relationships: being a good listener, sincere compliments on successes, honesty, helpfulness, for example. If you can point out those positive things in your own child, she is more likely to continue those behaviors. •Remind your child not to interrupt and to make good eye contact. •Early in the year, help your child arrange weekend activities that promote friendship and group interaction.
Be vigilant in your observations and interaction with your middle schooler no matter how many times he tries to push you away. Consider a breakfast or lunch on the weekend with just you and your daughter. Or go to him at bedtime to talk and give him the opportunity to talk. My sister says that if she wanted her son to tell her what was going on, they would get in the car. Something about not having to make eye contact and being a captive audience seemed to make the car a safe place to talk.
Adolescence is also a time to cultivate a repertoire of open-ended questions and follow-up questions to keep ‘em talking. Don’t give them the opportunity to only say “yes” or “no.”