We completed our first year of middle school this year. I say “we” because I cried just as much as she did. The experience was very different from each of our perspectives, but both of us walked away with some fresh insights about her abilities and strengths.
Middle school marked my daughter’s first year of changing classrooms and demonstrating her entire personality in a shared locker space. It was freedom, access to vending machines, after school activities and teachers who interacted on a more “chill” level. It was also drama, gossip and an illegal side business centered around a faulty vending machine. (It’s hard to condemn the entrepreneurial spirit!)
I expected middle school to be the “make it or break it” of her educational experience thus far. Elementary school was hard and not particularly successful. She struggled to keep up with writing, math and organization. If I didn’t track the assignment, watch it happen and follow up with the result…it just didn’t happen. If I hovered, she loathed me. If I stood back, teachers insinuated that I wasn’t involved. During one conference a teacher told me I needed to make her do the work and in the next breath told me I was forcing too long hours on her to do the work. Elementary school was a nightmare. She wasn’t stuck in the middle of the pack; she was stuck at the bottom.
Middle school rocked! My daughter thrived on the independence and “chill” vibe. Although not a perfect year, she demonstrated that she wasn’t destined to be at the back of the class. She does have strengths and she started to catch up enough to develop interests in study topics. Now that my time isn’t centered around tracking assignments, I’ve begun to think about what I can do to help her see herself as top of the class material. Being top of the class isn’t the real goal. In the grand scheme of life, top of the class is just a silly, short sighted goal. My goal is to ensure that she sees herself as deserving a top of the class life and this is my plan.
Right Now – Guide her toward dreaming about colleges, careers and lifestyles.
- Ask her what schools she wants to attend. I’m not asking if she wants to attend. A yes or a no question jut creates too much space to be able to hone-in-on a vision for your life. I’ll admit that it is a little manipulation on my part though!
- Ask her what careers she might want to try.
- Ask her what she wants her grown-up days to look like. Where will she go? Does she have an office? Does she drive around a lot? Are animals around?
- Watch shows, sport events, etc. that center around those places and careers.
- Tour those places and careers. I don’t mean a pre-college tour. I simply want to create positive experiences and memories associated with those dreams.
A Little Later – Help her understand what effort that will require.
- Interview people in those careers.
- Connect her with college freshman who can talk about what they did to get there.
- Connect her with athletes and artists to learn about special ways people stand out.
- Find summer activities for training or volunteering around her interests.
Finally – Help her take ownership and excitement.
- Set a high expectation for quality of homework, organization and effort.
- Ask what tools are necessary and provide them.
- Set consequences for poor quality effort.
- Reward her responsibility.
- Encourage her to reflect on successes. Ask why something worked. Reflect on why things were easier to complete this time verses other times.
Will it work? It’s hard to say. At times it will be annoying to be positive and keep coming up with fun, future oriented experiences. I also find it very difficult to enforce consequences. I do believe that if I approach this as a supportive endeavor, it will create a positive impact on her expectations for life.