Still Waters Run Deep: Middle Schoolers and the First Day of School
One of the best games to play as the parent of a Middle Schooler is, "Guess the Emotion that's Fueling this Behavior." Is it fear? Hunger? Sadness? Joy? Confidence? Exhaustion? Boredom? Is your adolescent's silence because they're upset about something? Or are they just thinking deeply? Are they being goofy because they're tired or bored or avoiding something or feeling socially awkward? Is their unexpected kindness toward their younger sibling a reflection of their developing maturity or guilt over some mistake you don't yet know they made? In bodies that are enduring complicated changes and minds that are just as cacophonous, Middle Schoolers are working hard to look like they're steady. It's no surprise that sometimes it goes awry.
Like on the first day of school. For some Middle Schoolers, this is the day they've been waiting for, when they feel the leadership that often comes with that level of school and the new adventures on and off campus that are often connected with Montessori Middle Schools. For others, that same role may feel overwhelming. They may find friendships on which they relied seem less sure these days. They may feel less at ease in the same bodies that have served them so well for so many years at school.
Follow their lead. Your Middle Schooler is living in an in-between space of development, in flux physically, emotionally, intellectually. The start of school is an in-between space in the routine of the year, too. You can't create the balance for them, but you can walk with them as they navigate it. As you prepare with them for the first day of school, be candid about your own emotions, modeling for them that it's ok to talk about complicated things, even when you're not sure yet how you want to resolve them. Then wait. Conversations with Middle Schoolers don't follow the same pace as they will later in development. There's a lot more quiet. There are fewer answered questions. There's more wait time. You may find yourself using language like, "When you want to talk..." Use open-ended questions that avoid a yes/no answer, and give lots of space for silence after you ask a question. And on that first day of school, slow yourself down. Do whatever you can the night before so that your attention can be on your child. Be patient and kind, and remember not to take any of the stresses personally, even when they feel really personal.
And then, remember, you're still a partner with the school. Keep your observations known to your child's teacher, and check in to see how the transition back to school is going, even if it's the twelfth time you've done it. Keep communication ample, open and often, and to the degree you can, keep steady. They're internally and externally on restless waters. Be their steady rudder and remember to stay focused on who they are becoming, even on the days when who they are is a complete enigma.