Growing Pains

What was your middle school experience like?

My youngest is nearing the end of his middle school experience. When we asked how his school day was he made a face (something between resistance and relief), blew out an audible breath and said, “a lot of kids are getting physical in the hallways and parents are getting concerned.” Wait, I thought, I’m a parent and I’m not concerned — because I wasn’t aware anything was going on. I needed to learn more. “What exactly happened?” I asked. My son told us how there are a small group of kids that like to push each other, and use inappropriate language when moving between classrooms when no teachers or staff are present. It had gotten to a point where they had to sit each class down and talk to the students about what was going on because some kids were getting hurt. My son was upset, not because he had gotten caught up in this, but because what his classmates were doing were disappointing to him.

“It bothers me that some of these people are in my class,” he shared. His school is small, and most of the folks in his class he’s been with for years. “I don’t understand why they think this is funny or okay.” We talked about what was going on. My oldest thought the whole thing was humorous and shared stories of his middle school experience that was mirroring his brother’s. The difference was it didn’t seem to bother my oldest, but did my youngest.

My youngest made a comment indicating he still didn’t understand why his friends would engage in this behavior and find it okay. I offered a possible reason for the way the boys were behaving. “Think about when you were starting middle school. You were still more dependent on folks like mom and dad, and your teachers, and willing to listen and adhere. But, middle school is the transit period between being dependent and starting to be independent. Kids start to test boundaries and who they want to be.” My husband chimed in, “it’s like trying new clothes on. They try to see what fits.” We all agreed it’s a normal part of growing, and hoped our son wouldn’t judge his classmates too harshly, though we’re hopeful they’ll rethink their behavior and treat others more kindly going forward.

Growing up is hard. Seeing how others change can be painful, but it’s part of the process we all go through. I continue to appreciate that our son is letting us navigate this with him together.

What growing pains has your child encountered? How are you helping them navigate these changes?

A Sign of Support

The situation in Ukraine is terrible. The bravery the citizens are showing is inspiring. Trying to imagine what it must feel like to be in the situation is impossible. It must be terrifying, stressful, exhausting, and so much more.

My boys are much more aware of politics and what is going on in the world than I was at their age. We discussed what was happening in Ukraine at dinner, and wondered what we could do to help. It can feel hopeless when you are far away and removed from the situation. We talked about how we could show support, and how we could donate to relief organizations. We talked about why one leader would inflict so much pain on so many, with no regard for the damage he’s doing to innocent people (in Ukraine and Russia), their lives, livelihood, and countries. We talked about the beauty of so many around the world being united against the invasion. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but it was a needed one. War is ugly, and no one wins in war.

Following our conversation, our youngest being into geography, insisted we get a Ukrainian flag using his own money. We agreed and now have it hanging in our window as a sign of support. He knows he doesn’t have the means to contribute any significant amount, but knew a visible sign of support had to mean something.

How do you talk to your child about bad things that happen in the world? What signs of support have you and your family taken for others are in need?

Thinking Ahead

Clearly, moving from middle school to high school in the Fall is top-of-mind for my youngest.

My youngest was out in our living room pacing ever so slightly back and forth. “What’s up,” I asked. “Nothing,” he replied, and then he stopped walking and made a hmmm noise. “Well, actually…” he said, “I’m thinking about high school and what those changes will mean for me.” His facial expression was a mix of anticipation and fear. His older brother just went through enrollment for his classes, so it would make sense this was on his mind.

“Are you concerned about something?” I asked. “Well, maybe. I’m concerned it’s going to be a lot more. Classes. The teachers are going to be strict. There’s going to be more homework.” I could see he was stressed about the upcoming change (though it’s still months away). I thought for a minute before responding. “You’re right that change is coming, and I’ve yet to meet anyone that likes change, especially when it’s unclear what exactly the change will be. The good news is, while change isn’t easy, it’s something we all have to go through throughout life, and each time you show yourself you’re able to adapt and successfully make the change, the more confidence you have the next time round. You’ve already gone through some big changes—moving homes, moving from elementary to middle school, learning to navigate public transit and more. Yes, it will be different, but you should grow in your capabilities and feel good about it.”

He exhaled, lowered his shoulders, and smiled. “You’re right, I can do this. Thanks.” That ended the conversation.

We can, too often, look ahead and get anxious, worried, or concerned about the unknown. Change is hard, regardless the age — whether it’s planned or thrust upon you. It’s how you use the tools, including experience, you have to know you can get through whatever life throws at you next.

How do you handle change? How are you helping your child navigate it?

A Good Day

If your child is 10 or older, how often do they tell you they’ve had a good day at school?

In our house it’s normal, particularly from our oldest, to get one of the following responses: it was okay, or terrible (which usually means it was boring or not being prepared for a test or quiz). Rarely is the response good (or anything better than okay). 😊

My oldest needed a ride home from practice. He normally will call me when he’s ready to be picked up. My husband decided to go to the school, in my place, to see what was going on when we still hadn’t received a call or text from our son at the usual time. Of course my son didn’t know his father was already there, so he called me. When I answered his call to let him know his father was there, I noticed a lift (or happiness) in his voice. I was bummed I wasn’t the one going to pick him up, his tone indicated he had something he wanted to either share or talk about. I live for these moments.

My son got home and seemed to be in a good mood, not an overly good mood, but better than your average day. His father mentioned, while my son was getting cleaned up for dinner, that he’d had a good day, and nothing more. As we were eating dinner I inquired with our son, “I heard you had a good day. What was good about it?” He responded, “Dad, have you been gossiping?” This reaction surprised me, I thought my son would just answer the question. My husband said, “All I told Mom was that you had a good day.” I chimed in again, because now my son had me really curious, “so, what was good about your day?” He paused, then said, “the weight room is open after school and they said I can use it.” He looked like he wanted to share more but wouldn’t. I let silence settle in as we continued with our meal. Finally, I had to take another try at finding out what he was holding back. “Was there anything else good about your day?” He thought, then carefully chose his words, “I guess it’s just how the day went. The first four periods, not so great, not so bad. Second part of day went better and knowing I could use the workout room and get all my exercises in felt great.” I knew he was holding something back, but decided not to pry further.

Later that evening, when it was just my husband and I, he gave me a little more insight into my son’s good day, sharing that my son had gotten paired with a classmate he was interested in and the conversation had gone very well. I could understand why my son wouldn’t want to share that in front of us. Liking someone and wanting/hoping to be liked back is when we are most vulnerable. The fact that he’s starting to explore this is exciting and scary (more so for him, but also for his father and I – will it work out, what happens if it doesn’t, we should probably revisit talking with him about healthy relationships, intimacy, sex and responsibilities as those are topics worth going over time and again, even when they’re uncomfortable).

I’m happy my son had a good day. I’m hopeful his confidence in himself and what he has to offer others (in a relationship) will grow. I look forward to the day he feels comfortable talking to me openly about it. And most of all, I hope I’m the one picking him up on his next good day. 😊

How do you get your child/teen to share how their day went? How are you making them comfortable so they can share uncomfortable information?