By Guest Blogger Mary Keever, Head of Middle School, Westchester Country Day School

Whenever I tell someone I teach middle school, I usually get a response of “bless your heart.” This is because hardly anyone remembers middle school fondly. I get a similar reaction when I ask parents what they remember about their middle school years. They share words like embarrassed, self-conscious and unsure. At this point, I assure them our teachers are going to try really hard for their children to feel differently.

I also assure parents that this is naturally a time of developmental change. Doctors and counselors compare the middle school years to the toddler years as far as how much physical and mental growth is happening. Also, this growth is happening at a different rate for each child. This means their middle school experience is going to be unique.

If you remember your own middle school days as one of the worst times of your life, rest assured that it does not have to be that way for your child. There are things you can do to support your child in this stage. There are also ways teachers can play an active role in guiding them through the inevitable ups and downs.

Allow Them to Make Choices

Middle school children really like making choices. We allow this at school by offering choices in their electives and PE/sports selections. It’s an opportunity to make good choices and learn from ones that do not work out as planned. Our teachers also give choices in the classroom. This includes deciding to create something artistic or write a report for their project. The opportunity to make choices at school and at home helps build confidence. It also gives them ownership of their learning. Our parent conferences each spring are student-led. It’s empowering for students to be in control of the presentation. Middle school children desire the chance to be in charge and make decisions.

Provide Space for Safe Risk-Taking

Along with making choices and taking ownership comes the risk of something not working out as expected. Middle school is a great time to try new things in a safe environment where parents and teachers are there to offer a safety net. We tell our students not to worry about the grade. It’s OK if they forget something. We will be there to help figure out how to make up for it or avoid doing it again next time. If your child is facing a challenge at school and they want to handle it on their own, let them see if they can manage it. If they cannot, you and your child’s teachers can be ready to jump in and help them out.

Help Them Gain Perspective

Middle school children will inevitably spend some days in the “freak zone” and others in the “peak zone.” A day when they are crying and don’t know why can be followed by the best day ever. In either case, they may or may not be able to identify why they are feeling this way. Socially, middle school is a difficult time for everyone. Even those who don’t seem to be faltering feel like they are at times because they are constantly comparing themselves to others. Middle school children frequently say things like, “Everybody is doing this,” or “No one is doing that.” A lot of times it is not necessarily accurate, but it is how they feel. Parents can help provide the emotional perspective that some days there will be challenges and other days we can celebrate the wins.

Get Them Outside of Their Own Head

This is a developmentally appropriate time for middle school children to be stuck inside their own heads because they are so aware of all the changes. This makes it hard for them to understand and be empathetic of others. At school, we help with this by involving them in service learning in the community. Then we have them reflect on the experience. This is how we bring it all together by offering choices, allowing them to take safe risks, and helping them gain perspective of the world around them.

These are some of the ways we approach learning in the middle school years at Westchester Country Day School, where we have a phenomenal team of teachers who absolutely love working with this age group. We mentor each child, every day to affirm their individual strengths and nurture their increasing independence for success in school and life.

We love meeting with families and talking about how their child can discover a positive and impactful middle school experience. If you’d like to learn more, visit our classrooms, and meet our teachers, call Kerie Beth Scott, director of admissions, at 336-822-4005.

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