​Empower Your Child: Four Key Skills Preparing for Middle School

Posted by Jen Kennedy, School Social Worker and Boys Town Press Author; Wendy Falk, Educator, Counselor, and Boys Town Press Author on Sep 12th 2023

Recently, a parent group for our local school district posted this question: “Starting the year in a new school. What can I do to get my kid ready?”

What a great question! And it got us thinking, there are a number of things you can do to help your child get ready for a new year or new school, such as: make sure they are going to bed earlier, practice getting up earlier, eat well, make sure they know and practice how to introduce themselves, review with them what it means to be a good friend, etc. And each of these will help make an impact on your child’s early days in school. But the bigger concept we should be emphasizing is, how do we empower children to not only do well in school, but in life?

Below are four ways to empower children to embrace discomfort and learn the skills of independence born of the natural challenges of childhood.

Let Them Fail. Like Michael Jordan’s famed 100 perfect free throws every day, children have to learn how to succeed and, yes, how to fail. Failure is painful. But failure is not the end of the story. Failure is an opportunity for a new beginning, to try again. Children need to know they can fail and survive. For example, how does your child react to losing a game? To earning a lower grade than expected? To not making the team? While it is expected they’ll feel hurt or sad in these moments, we also know students can learn to cope, bounce back, and try again.

Let Them See YOU Fail – and Survive. You can model failure and disappointment by being transparent when you make mistakes and letting your kiddos see you feel it and manage it. In the process, you show them how to cope, and you normalize the reality that failures are going to happen just as overcoming those challenges ALSO happens. Win-win!

Let Them Try. Any tasks kids can do on their own – choosing outfits, packing backpacks, packing lunches, etc. – let THEM do it. Sometimes it can be easier – even faster – to do it for them, but unless you put children in the position to try, practice, make mistakes, and correct failures, they’ll never truly learn.

Create Supportive Structures. Executive functioning – those steps of planning, organizing, doing things in order – remain a challenge for middle schoolers. But you can create tools to help your child. For example, maybe your child won’t remember all their chores after school. But will they remember if you provide them a list? Maybe your child doesn’t remember how to do a load of laundry. But what happens if you give them written directions? Rehearse it with them? Chances are your child will see their own skill, not only in the task, but in their ability to handle the task on their own.

What happens when you let them try?

Completing tasks and seeing success can change the inner dialogue of self-doubt and lead to more positive self-esteem. Giving children the freedom to be more independent allows them to see how capable they really are. With improved self-esteem and confidence comes improved problem solving and improved mental health. Children begin to see themselves as valuable, capable, and skilled. They become empowered.

It may seem a bit scary, but just remember: in the future, you may not always be available or have the time to teach – so do it NOW. Take this moment in your child’s life and show them how to accept and manage failures and challenges while you provide a safe place to land, regardless of the outcome.