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I was recently at a middle school sporting event. I noticed many different people in attendance including parents, friends, school faculty, and others just there to see a good game. Most of these people would be considered “cheerleaders.” There were a few officials there to ensure the rules of the game were followed. Each team had a couple of coaches, and then there were players, who had the most invested in the game.
As time led up to the start of the game, the coaches were studying the teams, giving last minute instructions, and adjusting strategy for a successful event. The “cheerleaders” were doing whatever they wanted to do waiting for the game to begin. Some were chatting with friends, others were painting faces, many were eating, and others were just relaxing. The coaches were the ones focused on the task at hand.
Once the game began, the players gave everything they had and followed the coaches’ instructions on each play. Throughout the game, the officials tried to keep the game fair by making calls regarding the rules. As you could guess, many of the “cheerleaders” didn’t agree with the calls that were not in their teams favor. I noticed at one point that many of the cheerleaders in the stands were standing and yelling to argue the call. One coach walked over to the official, asked why the call was made, and walked back over to explain to his players how to prevent this call in the future.
We often stress to parents: “Be the coach not the cheerleader.” Our children are the players and they need us focused on how they can be successful, not just cheering them on while not fully invested. Most coaches I know try to use strategy to get the win. They study, invest, and coach throughout the process. Sometimes cheerleaders want to blame the officials when they really haven’t been paying attention or simply don’t know enough about the game.
Webster’s defines a cheerleader as an enthusiastic and vocal supporter. Webster defines a coach as a person involved in the direction, instruction, and training of the operations of a team or of an individual person.
In our society today, we have many more cheerleaders than coaches when it comes to parenting. Our goal is to change that and help parents better understand how to coach their child. Many families cheer on their child because they want their child to be successful in sports, the arts, academics, or whatever other activity they are involved in. I have never heard parents say that they want their child to fail, but rarely do they have the tools to coach their child to success.
Here are our top ten secrets of successful parent coaching through the transition to middle school. These are practical things that you know, but think you don’t need or have time to do. The best time to start checking off the list is the middle of the 4th grade year, then prepare throughout the 5th grade year for the transition to middle school. This is the best time, but it’s never too late. There are many coaching sessions that need to take place but this list is specifically on the transition piece.
The three people you need to know quickly:
- Get to know your school principal
The average middle school is around one-thousand students. Principals want to know their kids, but it is nearly impossible unless a relationship has been formed ahead of time. Always tell your principal your name and your child’s name. Tell them over and over and over until the principal begins calling you and your child by name. This relationship will help in many situations from support of your child to your support of the principal and the school. In our book, CuringtheCulture of our Schools, this is one of the biggest steps that we tell school principals that they must make time to do!
- Get to know the 6th grade school counselor
This is a step that most everyone misses. Most parents think that their child will never need the school counselor but it is usually the first person a child sees for most every situation. The school counselor provides a safe place for students and parents. It is the most non-threatening space whether it is a simple schedule change, friend issues, lost your phone, forgot your combination, or bigger issues such as a family disaster, or the loss of a loved one. The school counselor serves as an in-house child and parent advocate. We strongly believe that parents and the school counselor should be in a first name relationship.
- Get to know the receptionist
This is the person who will meet you at the door at every visit. Actually, in most schools this is the person that truly knows the answer to every question you may have. Most of the time this person also has access to everyone’s calendar, phone number, and location. They are the ones who will get you what you need quickly and quietly. They truly are the gate keeper and the better the relationship the better the access. This position is the toughest in the school and a little gift or note of encouragement will go a long way when you have a last minute request, special situation, or request that may be out of the ordinary. Trust me, this is the one you will thank me for later!
- Tour your school
This rarely happens. It will make you and your child much more comfortable if you know the school, its layout, and the schedule. Touring a school should be done while students are on campus and should also be done during the summer when the school is empty. Most principals will allow you to spend as much time as you would like getting to know your school. It is not important that your child know every class he or she will attend. It is most important they have a mental picture of the schools layout.
Your child as part of the process:
- Layout a three year tentative plan with your child
One of the best things that I have seen is a family sit down and set a clear three year plan. This plan can consists of classes you would like to take, extracurricular activities, faith-based participation, health plan, study time, reading logs, summer camps, volunteer opportunities/hours, etc. This is a plan that is constantly changing. A good way to keep up with the plan is to revisit each time you receive a report card, monthly, or even weekly. This can become overwhelming, but you only get one shot at the middle years. Make them count! Make sure you schedule time to just be a kid!
- Get organized
This is one of the biggest complaints I hear from parents and teachers. At ten or eleven years old, students go from having one or two instructors to having six or seven. At the middle school level, learning becomes more content specific and each teacher believes his or her content is the most important. You need to decide as a family how you are going to manage all of this information – anywhere from a traditional notebook to a digital portfolio. It really doesn’t matter how it is organized as much as doing what works for you as a family. Notice I said family. It is hard enough for an adult to work for six to seven people, but for a child it is nearly impossible without the organizational help and support of an adult in the home.
Prepare and understand your child:
- Shelter them and let them go
We want our kids to stay as young as they can as long as they can, but eventually we have to let them go. Now let me be clear, middle school is NOT the time to let them go, but it is the time to start exposing them to the real world. As parents we must expose our children to new things and then pull them back in for teaching, then expose and teach again. This rarely happens. Parents do a good job of exposing students to new adventures, different cultures, crowds, restaurants, movies, high school and college sports, etc. Where we sometimes fail is having an open conversation about what was seen and how it relates to your family’s belief systems. This conversation needs to take place and to take place often. I often am with my kids and we may see or hear something that is against our belief system. I have a choice as a parent to ignore it or to have an open conversation with my kids. Use teachable moments often.
- Get to know your child
This is a tough area because you need to be the parent and not the friend. We see so many students and parents cross this line of friendship much too early in middle school. No matter what, your child must see you as the parent first. With that being said we must also get to know our kids before they enter middle school. They will change so fast that if you do not know them well now you may not even recognize them later. Yes, the physical changes during this time are second only to the first two years of a child’s life. The emotional changes are somewhat obvious as well. But how about the inner thoughts of your children? Do you know them well enough to go buy them their favorite book, movie, song or album? Do you know what they pray for and how they are interacting with adults at school? Do you know how they act with a group of friends? Are they a follower, leader, introvert, extrovert? Do they have goals and dreams? All of these things are important to know and to routinely discuss with your children. The “How was your day at school?” question is not a relationship and the common answers do not tell you their story. Dig in and commit to getting to know your child. The number one way to do this is spelled T-I-M-E.
You may not agree but….
- Get them a smart phone
Either you teach them responsibility now or they will learn it from someone else who may have different beliefs than you. My opinion has drastically changed on this subject in the last few years. I believe that the fear of personal devices had us all a little nervous. Now I am seeing that the children who are given the opportunity to have some responsibility while also having the parental supervision are doing just fine. It seems to be those that are getting devices for their 8th grade year with little training or guidance that are abusing the privilege and getting into some questionable situations. It’s not a matter of how old they are and if they’re ready. It is a matter of whether they are still young enough to listen to your training, respect your limitations, and have a new sense of ownership and trust. I believe that this is a great way to begin building that trust relationship. And remember, it is your phone not their phone, so search it. It’s your job!
The most important:
- Pray with your child, not just about your child
I hear parents all the time tell me that they pray that their child will make the right decisions. They even ask me to pray for their child. Once a parent opens that conversation I jump right in. My question is “Do you pray for your child, at your child, or with your child?” The most important piece of being a parent at this time in a child’s life is involving that child in the process. Sharing your prayers and asking God for wisdom, peace, understanding, and opportunity should be done together. The parent and child relationship really steps up a notch when prayer is a part of your conversation. There is also a level of accountability that runs both ways. If you want to increase your level of relationship with your middle school child, simply ask them to pray with you. It’s a tough first step. Take it anyway!
Bonus-This is for free!
The adults in the home need to be on the same page in all situations especially the following:
- Internet usage
- Visiting friends
- Being dropped off at events/games/movies/etc.
- Overnight trips
These things need to be decided well in advance, otherwise your child will talk you or guilt you into allowing them to be in some questionable situations. Know your answer and stick with it. Don’t risk allowing your child to get hurt due to lack of planning on your part.
We hope that you will get invested your child’s transition to middle school! It is one of the most exciting and transformational times in a child’s life. Make sure you are being the coach and not just cheering from the side lines!
Curingtheculture has worked with multiple PTA’s, School Improvement Councils, faith-based groups, and other parent organizations in helping parents and students in the transition to middle school. We have workshops that last 45 minutes and half day workshops for parent groups. If you are interested in this service for your group please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or AndrewHooker@curingtheculture.com.