Author: Amy Boldt 

Parenting a middle school student has it’s challenges, that is for sure. We found a helpful article that we hope you will enjoy reading. Check it out, later in this article! It’s called, “How to talk to your middle-schooler (so they might actually listen to you.” 

The Menaul School community theme for 2021-22 is Thrive. Throughout the start of the year, students and faculty will explore what it means to thrive. Of course, the theme will speak to each one of us differently, given our unique interests and needs. 

As Middle School parents, you, too, will have your own ideas to contribute, which we hope you do as you interact with us in person and online!

Menaul School Picnic Event—We Needed That! 

Speaking of “thriving”, last Friday at our Chill Days Picnic so many of you said “yes, more please!!” to events like the picnic. 

Wasn’t it fun to see students playing safely outside, smiles on every face? The Acabals, proud parents of two Menaul graduates with a third in process, took care of the music. 

Middle and High School students danced, played, sang along, ate great food in the beautiful grassy park at the heart of campus. 

We saw some serious competition with the cornhole games set up near the food trucks. Seniors in high school, and elementary aged siblings alike, played Jenga, Connect Four, or played volleyball, basketball, or tetherball in the warm but breezy monsoon weather. 

Overall, we enjoyed the opportunity to be together without any pressure at all, just pure fun. We needed that! 

Old Mom’s Grill, The Munchie Truck, and Pop Pop food trucks were delightful. The staff loved the school’s vibe. In fact, they offered to cater any future event. Their happiness spread to all. 

The Chill Days Picnic seemed like a magical time, even though it only lasted just over two hours. A lot of families went home with happy (and tired) tweens and teens. 

While we can’t offer up a fun picnic every Friday, there are other ways to help our students thrive even when times seem extra challenging.

How To Talk To Your Middle School Student

We curated the following article from the Washington Post, in case you missed it. We would rename this, “How to help your Middle School Student thrive!” 

Middle School can be such a challenging time for parents (and everyone, frankly!) to understand. We were all Middle Schoolers once. 

We, ourselves, may not have had the support and guidance we needed when we needed it, in those years, but one thing is clear: communication is key! 

Am I Speaking a Different Language? 

The Middle School years are often a time when parents and guardians start to feel more distant from their child. It’s a time when communication becomes mind-boggling, according to Phyllis L. Fagell, author of “Middle School Matters.” 

Middle-schoolers need their parents’ support as much as — if not more than — when they were younger, but as a school counselor, I know this is when once-foolproof communication strategies can stop working. Tweens can bewilder their parents by toggling inconsistently between seeking affection and demanding privacy, soliciting advice and asserting independence.” 

Does this sound familiar to you? You might be a parent of a middle school student! 

Some “Light” Weekend Reading for Middle School Parents

In the article “How to Talk to Your Middle Schooler (So They Might Actually Listen to You)”, Fagell outlines the following as the ways to communicate with your tween or teen. 

  • Understand the Developmental Phase 
  • Take the Small Stuff Seriously 
  • Find A Neutral Zone 
  • Know Your Triggers 
  • Be Clear Your Love is Unconditional 
  • Don’t Put the Burden on Them to Ask for Help 
  • Experiment With Different Forms of Communication 
  • Treat Arguing and Complaining as Productive 

You Can’t Do it All—So Be Kind to Yourself! 

When you read the full article, we recommend taking Fagell’s ideas one at a time, and not being too tough on yourself as a parent. Take what you can from it and see if being more mindful of these tips helps you in your interactions. 

If it stresses you out, maybe set it aside for now! Above all, connect with other parents, as that will always give you a feeling of support. 

“Can You Hear Me Now?” 

Fagell offers an observation about communication patterns that may seem abnormal to you when talking with your middle school student. This may ring true to you, especially given that your student interacted with you differently just a year ago. In fact, there are some definite patterns you can make note of and take comfort in hearing that it’s quite typical. 

Tweens have to manage intense highs and lows and are micromanaged all day, so be prepared to talk on their time. A lot of kids need time to restore themselves after school,” Damour says. “It’s not that they’re shutting the parent out, it’s that they need to not talk to anyone.” 

She adds that a common dynamic is that parents will pepper their child with questions when they first see them and the child is too exhausted to talk. Then, when the kid does want to talk about something that happened in math class or at lunch, the parent has turned their attention elsewhere. 

It’s nearly impossible to put ourselves in their shoes, as for most of us it’s been too long (or we’ve blocked out those years from our memory!). 

Furthermore, the added pressure students feel when they are trying to manage an online “identity” while still figuring out their real-life identity. Not to mention, managing the stress of a pandemic. 

Parenting Judgment-Free Zone 

One thing Fagell recommends is to be aware of expression and tone. Make room for your middle school student to share their ideas and experiences without judgment. 

The following quote from Fagell’s article is a good example for ALL adults working with and raising middle school aged students: 

Middle-schoolers tend to be exquisitely sensitive to any sign of disapproval, so adopt a neutral facial expression and tone, give them your full attention and don’t assume you know best. Don’t pry into their personal life or ask accusatory questions such as, “Why did you do that?” While you’re at it, eliminate the phrase “I told you so” from your language.

This sounds “obvious”, perhaps, but we all know it’s not easy to maintain a high level of attention and calm when your own workday may have maxed you out. We all have busy lives and full days. Thus, it’s important to go back to the idea of taking it one day at a time. 

If You Can’t Say It, Play It! 

There are many more suggestions in this article. One of our favorites is “Experiment with Different Forms of Communication”.

Finding something you can do in common, such as playing a game, sharing music interests, or another activity you can enjoy together is not only fun. It can be its own form of communication. 

We saw many heart-warming examples of this at the school picnic last Friday. Parents playing volleyball or tetherball with their students, everyone laughing. In some cases, the student was instructing the parent patiently. 

We know our middle school parents are just now picking up their students who are back from their two-day camp. We want you all to know how much we respect you and wish to work together with you as partners in your student’s middle school experience. 

Looking Forward to Thriving with You 

We look forward to a great year with you. We can’t wait to see how you thrive and grow in your parent/student relationship. We are all in this journey together! 

Note: this article was originally published by the Washington Post on August 20, 2019. Read the full article here: “How to talk to your middle-schooler (so they might actually listen to you.” 

Phyllis L. Fagell is the school counselor at Sheridan School in the District, a therapist at Chrysalis Group in Bethesda and the author of “Middle School Matters.” She blogs at phyllisfagell.com and tweets @pfagell. 

Other articles you might like from the series On Parenting: 

Taking back the family dinner: How we created a mealtime renaissance 

To raise independent kids, treat middle school like a dress rehearsal for life 

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