Advice from a true expert: a middle-school principal.
By Les Potter, Ed.D.
During elementary school, most parents are very involved in their child's schooling. They know and meet with teachers and administrators, are aware of their child's progress and behavior, help solve problems, and see to it that kids spend enough time on homework.
Unfortunately, when children enter middle school, some parents stop being as actively involved, as if their help and support are no longer needed. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Although your middle-schooler is becoming more independent and is increasingly involved in activities outside the family, you should and must remain the most influential person in his life. Through your involvement in school and extracurriculars, you can do much to help your child believe in the value and importance of education, be enthusiastic about learning, and achieve academic success.
As a middle school principal, a big part of my job is to help parents to support their children emotionally as well as academically. Here is my best advice for parents of pre-teens:
1. Help your child manage homework time. Encourage her to aim high and always do her best work. Check with teachers to see how much time should be necessary to complete homework. See what your school offers to help you help your child, such as an agenda planner or some other homework reminder system, and/or a web site with helpful links. We use planners at our school and are amazed how successful they are in keeping parents informed of their children's progress (or lack thereof). After your child has completed her homework, go over it with her, and discuss what she learned from the assignments. If she has difficulties with studying or homework, encourage her to ask her teachers for help as soon as possible. Sometimes you may need to discuss difficulties with the teachers too.
2. Show interest in his studies by talking with him daily about what he is learning and doing in school (don't take "nothing" for an answer!). If you know your child has a project for science, get involved. The same goes for cheerleading, sports, and music -- any extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, I've seen parents drop their child off at a band concert and come back two hours later to pick him up, never bothering to watch his performance. This sends a terribly sad message to the child.
3. Discuss ideas and feelings about school, studies, and activities. Be realistic about what your child can and should be able to do. Don't expect great grades nor high test scores if she isn't capable. That expectation will only cause unnecessary frustration. If necessary, find out about the school's tutoring program and other options for additional academic assistance.
4. With your child, read and review the information that schools and districts provide. Be familiar with the pupil progression plan, course offerings, student handbook, etc. All these will help you and your child successfully weave your way through the maze called middle school. It is never too early to start and to work closely with school officials. It is better to start early and build a strong foundation of support than to wait until it is too late!
5. Contact counselors, administrators, and teachers periodically. Find out what your child should be learning, how she is progressing, and how you can help. Be a full partner in your child's education.
6. Be sure that he attends school on a regular basis. Even if he is absent for illness or another valid reason, he needs to keep up with his studies. Call the school if your child will be missing a day, and find out what he needs to do to make up for it.
7. Encourage her to pursue interests and make friends through extra-curricular activities. Be certain, however, that she selects no more than a few activities so she has adequate time for schoolwork. You must help her find a balance; this will take compromise and patience.
8. Know his friends. Who does your child hang out with? Follow up on any suspicions that you may have. It is better to be safe than sorry at this time of his life. I can't emphasize this enough. Know where your child is at all times. Be clear and consistent with discipline. Work with the school on your child's conduct. Understand that children will become leaders and followers and can be easily influenced by you and peers. This a wonderful time of their lives but you must be the parent and adult and lead them through.
9. Make it clear that she must follow school rules and policies. Teach her to respect people as well as property. Help her know right from wrong and what she must do when negative temptations come her way.
10. Encourage him to get to know his counselor and to maintain contact throughout his middle school years, if possible. Not only will the counselor be invaluable in supporting his academic path, he's also one of many potential adult role models for your child.
The above article appeared on the MSN homepage at http://special.msn.com/encarta/SchoolSuccess.armx?GT1=6389 on April 30, 2005.