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If you are raising a middle school student, you might have this strange sense of deja vu.  You feel like you’ve been through this stage before…but somehow a little different. They were shorter…less smelly (most of the time)…and talked less (or at least less clearly).  Ok, maybe not quite. However, there are a lot of physical and mental changes that take place in toddlerhood that occur again at a different level in Jr High.

Brain Pruning

One of the big things that changes in middle school and toddlerhood is brain pruning.  In this process, the brain “cleans out” extra connections that aren’t being used. This can cause some different behaviors to occur during this time.  Sometimes kids seem to “not be in control” and make “bad decisions.” Part of this is expressing their ability to make decisions for themselves, and establish independence.  Part of this is due to the brain pruning process going on in their brains (not an excuse for bad decisions by any means, but if we understand what is going on, as parents we can be better prepared for it).
 
What can we do?
  1. Lend them part of our “decision making brain” meaning give choices, but only ones that are acceptable to you.
  2. Help keep sleep and meals as regular as possible.  Just like a toddler needed a schedule, so does your middle schooler.
  3. Pick your battles.  If your child does better with school in the afternoon and gets their work done, let them work in the afternoon.
 

Emotional Rollercoaster

Emotions can be very powerful.  Naming emotions can be even more difficult, and yet give so much power to us.  As a toddler, our children begin to discover they have emotions, and they can choose emotions.  As middle schoolers, hormones begin to change how our emotions affect us. Being open to your middle schooler to come and talk to will help with this process.  These are the years when your kids will start to build a different relationship with you. Foster that relationship. You still have to “parent,” but work to listen too.
 

Relationships

As 3-year-olds, children tend to be all about “me.” MY feelings, MY toys, MY mommy/daddy/sister.  They do not see the world outside of “ME.” As they mature into 4-year-olds, they begin to realize there are other people around them.  Mommy and Daddy (and eventually siblings) have feelings and wants/needs too. They begin to realize they can do things to “help” others.  They start wanting to do things to please others, and to receive praise and possibly rewards.
 
Middle schoolers go through this process again but on a bigger level.  Elementary years are a lot about acceptance and building community (or at least that is what most elementary level schools are trying to do).  Middle school changes a lot of that. Suddenly there is a world out there full of other people’s opinions about what you eat, wear, and how you wear your hair!  It can be difficult to find your “place” during this phase of life. I’m reminded of my sister who became an “opinion shopper.” She would ask everyone their opinion on a decision she needed to make.  Eventually, she would hear the opinion she wanted to hear and go with that one!
 
What can we do?
  1. Allow for some self-expression.
  2. Give choices that are acceptable to you and allow your child to become more independent.
  3. Be there to listen when needed – without judging.
  4. Still set boundaries and “parent” when necessary.
  5. Make mistakes in front of your kids – and OWN THEM!  Our kids need to know no one is perfect.  Especially in Jr High, when they are trying so hard to be “grown up” and independent!

Growing and Changing Bodies

I hear a lot about middle school students/high school students and SLEEP.  Up all night. Sleep all day. Don’t shower until noon. Eat everything in sight.  Sounds a lot like my toddler. As kids enter the Jr High years, they often enter into growth spurts.  The body needs sleep for growth, moving information from short-term to long-term memory, and for all the hormone changes.  Stress can bring about a lack of sleep. Stress from the changing social relationships and dynamics mentioned above can create a lack of sleep.
 
At two distinct times in our child’s lives, we feel like we go through clothing sizes like tissues.  When they are toddlers and when they are teens (especially boys). For me, personally, I stopped growing when I entered middle school, at least in height.  But I grew in other ways that made clothing more challenging. This German/Irish mama has always had curves, and in Jr High, this was a challenge!! (Especially when it seemed most other girls did not yet!)  Finding clothes that fit right, and fit in with the crowds can be challenging for middle school students.
 
Some suggestions:
  1. Even if you use “second hand” clothes, find a way for your child to be able to pick some key pieces of clothing that are “just theirs.”
  2. Find ways for your child to express themselves through clothing in appropriate ways if this is important to them.
  3. Purchase clothes that fit comfortably (consider body type and sensory issues).
  4. Find a schedule that works for them – and work to stick with it!
  5. Find time to talk and connect – this can help with the stress they are experiencing.
  6. Teach about changing hygiene needs, and be sensitive to when their bodies change.  Everyone changes on a different schedule.
  7. Look for “samples” to try out different hygiene products to find the one your child likes best.  Different products work better for certain body types, and sensitivities can arise over time.
 

Homeschooling

Homeschooling during the Jr. High years can be tricky, as you child questions your authority and understanding of my materials. Now is a perfect time to outsource some classes, resource your students growing interests and try new things together, be that food, places or experiences! If you are not sure where to start with this process, check out our Jr High Classes and Clubs– there is something for everyone!
 
Though the Jr High years can be challenging, they too will pass. Your child is transitioning from dependency to mature interdependency, from little to big. As with all transitions, it can be a tricky time to navigate, but take heart! Like toddlerhood, the Jr High years don’t last forever!

Amy Vickrey, MSE  is a mother of a seven-year-old and almost three-year-old. Her homeschool journey began over 20 years ago when she saw how homeschooling enabled her sister who had memory issues and fell through the crack at school, to graduate and go to college. Amy knew then she wanted to implement what she saw – the love and individual attention – into her own teaching. She now homeschools her two boys and loves every minute of it! Having completed the second year of their homeschool journey, she is looking forward to many more to come!

Amy holds a Masters of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos.  Also, she spent 2 years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy and loves the discovery approach to learning. Teaching children how to learn will help them reach their goals and dreams.

Amy Vickrey states, “My passion for learning and being a lifelong learner is something I want to pass on to the children I teach, as well as my own children.  Making learning fun and engaging is an important part of this process. My goal is to lift others up to help them achieve their own goals and dreams.”  Find out more about Amy and the classes she teaches here.

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