Relax Your Grip

“Welcome to 7th grade!” I smiled at the parent entering my classroom.

“Whoosh!” she said.  “I don’t know if I’m ready for this!”

I was about halfway through Before-School Conferences, and already this was the theme that kept popping up.

Some parents dread having their child enter middle school because of what lies ahead:  adolescence and teenager-hood.

Do you remember learning to drive?  The harder you tried to steer the car, the more you went off course.  It wasn’t until you learned to relax and quit fighting the steering wheel that you could be successful.

Parenting a middle schooler is like that; it works best when you learn to relax and quit fighting so hard for control.  The happiest combinations of middle schoolers and parents that sat at my conference table were those where Mom or Dad made suggestions (if they said anything at all) but left final decisions about where to sit and where to put stuff to the student.  These parents communicated that they trusted their kids’ judgment, and the kids responded.

Make your expectations clear, offer suggestions, and then relax a little and give your middle schooler a chance to make the right decision.  Don’t be too quick to assume the worst and overreact, or you could create problems where there were none and slide right off the road.

And remember – to avoid oversteering, keep your eyes on the road ahead, not on what’s right in front of your bumper.

(Reblogged from August 2012)

Yes, Your Kid Would

I know there’s going to be trouble as soon as I hear those fateful words:  “My child tells me everything!”

No, he doesn’t.  What teen-ager would actually tell his parent everything?  (What adult child does that?)  When parents believe they know everything about their children, it creates difficulties at school.

There was the day a mom showed up in my classroom doorway after school, fire in her eyes.  She told me her son had climbed into the car and complained that I was accusing him of using bad language at school.  She knew her son better than that – and she knew he never lied to her.  In fact, he’d gotten teary about the whole matter, and when she asked him if he wanted her to talk to the teacher, he’d said yes.  “Do you think,” she said, “that he would send me in here if he were guilty?”

Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  What better way to convince your mother of your innocence than to work up some tears and agree to having her confront the teacher?

The reality was that not only had students reported to me about this young man’s language, but I had seen it in intercepted notes.  He was guilty.

I did not try to convince his mom of this, but I didn’t back down either.  I took the middle ground, suggesting he speak more carefully so no one could misinterpret what he’d said.

I promise you that the child you see at home is not the same child you see at school.  She may not be badly behaved, but she’s either not as chatty – or moreso; not as quiet – or moreso; not as serious – or moreso. . .you see where I’m heading.  When middleschoolers hang around with their peers, they’re different from who they are in their families.  It’s normal – a part of figuring out who they are as individuals.

Your task is to discover all the versions of your child and put them together into the whole 3D picture.  And remember – the picture will change often in the next few years!


Loading. . .Please Wait

While waiting for an update to load on my computer, I find myself staring at the numbers that show me how much progress it has made.  It starts out at a good clip: 15%. . .28%. . .35%. . . and then it sticks.  I cheer when it starts moving again – and then it stops at 88%.  Finally it makes it all the way to 100%, and I am relieved.  Until I remember there will be another update coming along soon.

Waiting for a middle schooler to develop adult traits and habits can be just like that.  They progress in fits and starts, and sometimes it seems they stall altogether.  For example, consider being responsible for one’s own stuff.  After months of nagging and complaining, parents might be delighted when their son remembers to take all of his basketball gear to school for two weeks in a row.  But then in the third week he may leave an important assignment at home on the day it’s due.

Or there’s the issue of being accountable for one’s own actions.  This week you may be surprised when you ask, “Who was supposed to feed the cat?” and Lori says, “Oh, sorry, I was.  I’ll go do it now.”  But next week the same question may cause her to reply, “I forgot, but it wasn’t my fault!”

Don’t expect every step forward to be permanent.  But don’t get discouraged either when they fall back into old habits just when you thought there was reason to hope.  It may be uneven progress – but it’s still progress!

Out and About

As I listened to the three little girls chatter with their mom and dad, I thought to myself, “Those are parents who won’t have big problems with their teenagers.”

While I was at Disneyland this past week, I played my usual game of Observing-Parents-And-Making-Predictions.  It’s  not something I do intentionally; I just catch myself at it.  In this case, I was at a nearby table watching the family finish a meal in the afternoon heat, a time of day which can bring out the worst in anyone.

But these girls, who were in the 5-to-9-year-old range, were smiling at their dad, teasing him: “Can we leave now?” the oldest asked with a grin. “Who ARE you children?” Dad blustered, “and why are you following me around Disneyland?”  The girls burst into giggles.  As they left, both parents listened with interest as the oldest laid out a plan for their afternoon.

So what is that easily-spotted trait that implies an easier adolescence?  I’ve boiled it down to respect.  Parents who treat their children with respect – who listen seriously to their children and speak reasonably to them when they’re still little – will keep doing so when their kids are teens.

And those teens will respond the same way.