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How to Train, Tame, and Enjoy a Seventh-Grader

I remember when my oldest son went to middle school.  I was a mess.  I was so anxious about whether he'd like his teachers, make friends, and be able to handle all of the work.  I think I was one of those parents that drive teachers crazy. No, I WAS one of those parents. I emailed teachers with questions that I could have asked my son (even when I asked him, I didn't trust his answer).  I checked his grades every day.  I constantly asked him whether or not he was caught up on homework. I asked him who he ate lunch with. If he didn't like a teacher, I wanted him transferred to another class.   If he messed up, I wanted to fix it.  If he didn't turn in an assignment on time, I wanted the teacher to let him turn it in late.  If he forgot his lunch, I wanted my husband to bring it to him (thankfully he refused). If he wasn't starting his homework when I thought he should,  I was practically putting the pencil in his hand and opening the textbook. In other words, I was a helicopter parent. If you read my blog a couple of posts ago, you will see that I am a recovering helicopter parent!

 By the time my oldest got to middle school, I was so exhausted from hovering over my oldest that I stepped back BIG TIME.  Here's what else I learned: hovering over my son did not help him   Instead of helping him, I  sent him the message that he couldn't handle things himself.  It created friction in our relationship.  Not good! Over the past five years, I've read numerous articles about parenting teens.  As a result, I have changed the way I parented my middle and younger son. I can say that we are ALL much happier now. 

If this is your first child in middle school, I have some tips and suggestions for you.   If you disagree with me, that is fine.  I just wish someone had given me some advice!  As a teacher AND parent, I feel I have a unique perspective.

1)  Let your child know that you have faith in his ability to handle problems/conflicts.  That doesn't mean you say,   "Figure it out yourself. I am not helping you." Instead, encourage your child to solve the problem.  For example, if he is  working on a group project and one of the group members isn't working, brainstorm some ways he could handle the situation.  Don't run to your computer to email the teacher.  Of course you can "guide them" to come up with solutions you think might work (make them think they thought of it).  Have your child try some of these ideas and ask how it went.  Do NOT intervene until your child has made a few attempts to fix the problem all by himself.   Obviously, there are some situations that require your immediate intervention, and you will know them when you see them. 

2) Encourage your child to advocate for himself. Teach your child to talk to people (namely adults).  Start off small.  For example, my son needed a combination lock for PE. I did not have time to drive around to every store in town to find out whether or not they carried locks!   I made him find the phone number for Staples, call them, navigate through the prompts, and ask the human who answered the phone whether or not they sold locks.  This is an important skill, but I have noticed that kids don't want to talk to people anymore!  My kids hate when I make them do this, but it is for their own good.  If your child  wants a new computer (or other big ticket item), have him  research the item and find the best price.  Finally, make your CHILD talk to his or her teachers about pretty much any issue that arises.  For example, rather than YOU emailing the teacher to tell her that Johnny broke his arm and needs to have someone take his notes for him, have Johnny talk to the teacher.  I promise you that your child is capable of this.  If you don't "trust" your child, you can still email the teacher to see if your child followed through.  However, don't tell your child.  

3) Don't expect perfection. Realize that mistakes and "failures" can provide valuable lessons that will last a lifetime. Here's what I learned: kids need to make mistakes.  Middle school is the PERFECT time to let them make mistakes. One of my policies is not to accept late homework.  In the beginning of the year, I have a few students test me on this policy.  I can't tell you how hard it is for me to look a tearful, sweet, adorable seventh-grader in the eye and say, "I'm sorry, but my policy is not to accept late work.  I am sorry you forgot it on your desk at home."  I say this with total love and reassure them repeatedly that they are not going to fail my class over one missing homework assignment.  Guess what?  The majority of the kids never forget again!  By the way, I don't assign a lot of homework, and I do allow projects and essays to be turned in late for a lower grade. Also, kids need to be reassured that they are more than the letters on their report cards!  Obviously grades are important, but not every child is a straight A student!  I'll never forget when I brought home a report card I was extremely proud of.  I couldn't wait to show my dad-all As and a B+. His first response was, "Why did you get a B+?"  Seriously! Focus on the positives!  

Perhaps you've seen this in the media recently:

It is pretty harsh and created quite a bit of controversy.  I am not sure I am hardcore enough to adhere to what the sign says, but I don't think any child would be harmed if parents heeded this mandate.  Perhaps some kind of compromise?  "I will bring you one forgotten item during the school  year-that is it."  I'd love to know your thoughts!  
By backing off a little (okay, a LOT), I learned to enjoy my kids and  make them less anxious!  I also like to hope that I am training them for the "real" world!

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