Buckle Up, Buttercup: Transitioning from the Elementary Years to the Middle School Years
I think I noticed his knees first. They suddenly started to look big on his still child-like legs. I see them today on my fourth grader, and I will see them another time on my seven-year- old. The knobby kneecaps, no longer chubby and soft, become a signal to me, a reminder, that my boy will not always be little. His needs will change as he gets older, just as his knees evolve to support his growing body.
The elementary years themselves bring changes for both parent and child. Extracurricular activities crowd the calendar. Your child becomes more aware of a friend talking behind her back. She gains gusto and confidence when she finds a wonderful book, piece of music, or sport that truly engages her. He learns more independence as he packs his snack for school.
As our elementary aged children begin to transition (yet again!) to another school, another stage, parenting brings a plethora of new questions and new worries that just were not necessarily present or applicable during the elementary years.
Do I sign up to parent place him in advanced math? Will she make the cheerleading squad? Will he get the teacher everyone says is so hard? What is this sudden sulky and temperamental attitude? (And I won’t even address social media!)
Parenting a young teenager heading to middle school is overwhelming. What once felt like a slightly controlled situation suddenly feels like one that could go off the rails at the slightest misstep—and the drop-off from the rails looks a lot steeper than it did with a seven-year-old. But it is not.
Did I forget? Have you forgotten?
Isaiah asks God’s people this same question: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the end of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:28) We need that reminder.
The God who gave his only Son for the forgiveness of our sins in order that we might have eternal life, also promises to go with us on this side of heaven. God promises to enter into the world of teenagers with us! As a parent, practically speaking, this is excellent news.
Because the reality is, things might go off the rails. You might pick the wrong class. She might not make the cheerleading team. He might get the really hard teacher. They all will be temperamental and sulky (remember, you were too!). And they might send or receive inappropriate photos. But they also might be in the correct class. She might make the team. He might love the hard teacher. They might be a joy in the teen years. They might handle technology responsibly.
But Isaiah 40:28 is true in either scenario. He is the Lord. He is everlasting. He is the Creator of the child whom you love dearly. He does not tire. And we do not always understand His ways. My version of “good” for my child is not always His version of “good” for my child. But again, He is God, and I am not.
From this firm foundation and grounding, knowing that the Lord has our children and their lives in the palm of his hands, we can move toward our children and alongside them as they navigate the transition from elementary to middle school.
Practically speaking, here are a few thoughts as you enter into the elementary to middle school transition.
Physically, their bodies are undergoing an incredible amount of change. Remind him or her of that. When he is angry, and you don’t know why, there is a chance that he might not know why either. She really may not know why she is teary and can’t get it together. No matter which gender, the hormones are raging. Reminding them of this, perhaps in a calm moment, post-blowup, might help them (and you). Try, and it is so hard, to stay calm and not board the emotional roller coaster with your teen.
Academically, allow for 6th and/or 7th grade to be learning years. Your child needs to learn how to do school with multiple academics on top of elective courses. Natural consequences, such as a poor grade, will be your friend as they learn time management, study skills, and their own strengths and weaknesses. Let your student e-mail the teacher when he/she has questions. Help him know when and how to ask for help from a teacher, and then let him do it.
Socially, friendships tend to shift during these years. Changes might come from multiple elementary schools joining into one middle school, who your teen has classes with, or what extracurricular activities your teen does. For some kids, middle school might allow for more relationships with students with similar interests, widening the social circle. For some, middle school looks like a scene from Mean Girls. Teens need our support in rejection, encouragement when we see them being kind, and a safe place to land at home. Remember, too, no one wants to peak at 13. You also would not want who you were at 13 to be how you are remembered today. There are a lot of social growing pains to be experienced in middle school. Give grace to teenagers and parents alike, remembering the grace that has been extended to us in Christ Jesus.
Spiritually, your teen may begin to take more ownership of his or her faith. While they still hear our voice as the parent, we also need other Christians to speak into their lives. Our teens are also confronted with more “grown up” issues at this time. We, as parents, must speak into their world with the Gospel and Scripture as our foundation, as well as allowing other Christians to do so alongside us. Youth groups, Bible studies, and parachurch activities are great ways to nurture those relationships. As a parent, these years feel like a spiritual bootcamp as you learn to rely more and more on the Lord. When you don’t know what to do or say next, pray. Ask God what the next right thing is for you (or your child). Teens push us to the limits, and when we see our limits, we see Jesus as He is: our Savior. Rely on Him.
As you enter into an exciting and emotional season with your child-turned-teen, remember who is on your team. The Lord, your God. As Isaiah 40 reminds us, He does not grow weary when we grow weary of a teenage attitude. He knows the plan when we can’t see how a situation is going to be redeemed. Not only that, but the Lord promises to go with us wherever we go: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). Praise God for his faithfulness not only to your teenager, but to you.