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Characteristics of Middle Schoolers & 10 Ways to Help Them Succeed

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With new halls, new classes and plenty of new friends — middle school is an exciting time for many kids. 

But middle school brings new challenges as well, like learning how to be independent. There are also many physical and emotional changes your middle schooler will experience as they start their path to adulthood.

As a parent or guardian, you’re probably wondering how you can best support your middle schooler. Whether your child is starting out in 6th grade or already has their sights set on high school, we’ve got you covered in this article! 

Learn more about what to expect from your child as they progress through middle school and get 10 tips on how to best support them.

5 Common characteristics of middle schoolers

Compare your child’s first day at elementary school to their last. You likely saw some big changes as they learned to write, do basic math and develop their own interests.  

Just like elementary school, middle school is another huge milestone for your child’s development. Not only will your child’s learning advance, but they’ll also begin to show signs of maturity as they become teenagers. 

Developing a mature mindset takes a lot of learning, and parents should expect to see some new characteristics in a child’s behavior as they go through middle school.

Here are five common characteristics that many kids in middle school share.

1. They can sometimes exaggerate

With so much change going on in their lives, middle schoolers are starting to learn how to respond to the wider world. They’re also learning how to judge how important things are, which can lead them to exaggerate. You might hear them obsess over a new TV show as the “best thing ever” or say they absolutely need to have the latest smartphone or gadget. 

Exaggerating can also create conflict with kids at home and at school. In an argument, kids and preteens might use extreme words like “worst” to describe you, a teacher or a friend. Remember, they’re still learning and this is not a reflection of you — it’s how they’re processing their feelings.

a group of preteens talking on phones

 2. They might worry about what their friends think

As your child’s education goes up a gear in middle school, so does their social emotional learning.

Your middle schooler really values the opinions of their friends. Peer pressure is very influential as your child starts to find their identity in social groups — affecting what they wear, what they want and even what they say. This can cause them to overthink and stress over seemingly simple tasks like picking out an outfit. 

3. They can be insecure about changes in their bodies

It’s not just your child’s school and friendship groups that change as they start middle school. Their bodies do too. 

The middle school years can be challenging for many children as they become aware of their own bodies, especially if they enter puberty earlier or later than their friends do. These bodily changes can make them feel self-conscious about their appearance and affect their confidence levels

As their parent, you can support them through this journey. Discuss their body image with them and encourage them to feel positive about their body.

4. They desire to be taken seriously 

Middle school is a crucial turning point in your child’s maturity. 

As they learn, listen and become more self-reliant, they naturally expect parents to take them more seriously. Many won’t like being called a kid or child and may instead want to be seen as a young adult. They also expect their opinions to be validated.

Not taking their opinions or thoughts seriously can create emotional distance between you and your child. Don’t be afraid to answer your child’s more complex questions seriously — they will respect you for being a supportive parent

5. They crave independence

While you might be used to doing a lot for your child when they were in elementary school, middle schoolers expect some independence. Gaining independence is an important stage for your middle schooler’s development as it sets them up for high school and adulthood. 

Expect your middle schooler to want more independence over things like their choice of fashion, spending habits and how they spend their free time. 

middle schooler in class

How to help middle school students succeed

While children in middle school face new challenges that can affect their behavior, they don’t have to face them alone. As their parent, there are many things you can do to help your child or preteen succeed through middle school.

Here are 10 tips that will help your child thrive in middle school:

1. Attend school academic events

Academic events like parent teacher conferences are excellent ways to understand your child’s progress in middle school. These events help you understand your child’s academic performance and how they feel about middle school

If your child finds a particular subject hard, like math, academic events will allow you to develop a strategy with your child’s teacher. These events are also a great platform to discuss supporting your child if you know or suspect they have a learning difficulty or disability. 

2. Meet with the school counselor 

The school counselor is an essential part of your child’s support system as they transition to middle school. They’re there to support your child for their emotional, psychological and academic needs, including challenges like bullying, bereavement and relationship struggles. 

Counselors are experienced professionals who help your child overcome obstacles in a safe and judgement-free environment. They also help deliver special education programs for students who experience challenges like anxiety or learning and behavioral difficulties. 

Even if you feel your child won’t need to see the counselor in middle school, make sure both you and your child know how to communicate with them

3. Know the school's policies on discipline 

While no parent wants to hear that their child needs to be disciplined, knowing how discipline works at your child’s middle school can help keep them on the right track. It can also give you peace of mind that the school has a process ready if another child has misbehaved or been involved in bullying.

You can find information about the school’s discipline policies by:

  • Visiting the school’s or school district’s website
  • Asking your child’s teacher or school counselor
  • Reaching out to the school directly for more information
  • Reviewing the viewbook or parent information documents 

When reading the policies, identify the expectations your child’s school has for its students. Try to share some of these expectations at home too, as this makes it much easier for your child to follow them. 

organized desk with pencils and clock

4. Teach good organizational skills

Middle school brings a lot more independence than elementary school. Tasks like homework, school projects or having to move classrooms can be overwhelming. 

Teaching your child organizational skills like time and task management can lower their stress levels and keep their academic performance up. 

Time management is key for helping your child stay on top of their education and reduce stress. To help your child manage their time more effectively, you can:

  • Provide them with a planner or calendar
  • Help them set up a study plan for tests
  • Teach them how to prioritize their tasks to meet deadlines

Task management is an important organizational skill for middle schoolers that teaches them how to get work done effectively. To help your child manage tasks, you can:

  • Give them a quiet study space to work without distraction
  • Make sure they have all the study materials they need for each task
  • Encourage them to break a big project into small, manageable tasks

Teaching your child how to organize their time and tasks will help them not just in middle school, but also as they enter high school and beyond.

5. Talk about school often

Whether catching up at dinner or chatting on the car ride to school, a check-in is a great way to understand how your child finds middle school and how to support them.

To start a check-in with your middle schooler, ask them open-ended questions. This will allow them to express their opinions and create a conversation. Ask questions like:

  • “What is your favorite class right now?”
  • “Who is your favorite teacher this year?”
  • “What did you learn about at school today?”
  • “What was the best and worst part of your day?”
  • “What is better and worse about middle school than elementary school?”

Check in with your child regularly and casually. Preteens are naturally more self-conscious than younger children and might find long sit-downs daunting, making them closed off instead of being open about school.

mom checking in with her daughter

6. Speak about their feelings

Your child is likely experiencing a lot of new changes in middle school. This can generate some confusing and intense emotions.  

Encouraging your child to be open about their feelings isn’t always easy. Just like with check-ins, middle schoolers can feel uncomfortable and vulnerable when expressing their feelings. 

Here’s how to help your child speak up about their emotions:

  • Validate their feelings — Instead of trying to find a solution to their problems, recognize how they’re feeling and sympathize with them. Even small statements like, “I can imagine that must be tough,” will help your child feel more comfortable. 
  • Share your own feelings — Create a safe space for your child. Tell them about positive and negative events that happened to you and how they made you feel. 
  • Show trust and respect — Keep personal conversations with your child private when possible and let them know you respect them for sharing their feelings. 
  • Give them time and space — Preteens are learning to regulate their emotions and might need some time and space before they can properly express how they feel. 

7. Be involved in homework

As they become independent learners, middle schoolers are expected to manage tasks like homework on their own. But they may still need some help from time to time. 

If you notice your child is falling behind on homework, discuss this with them to find out why. They could be finding a subject hard to learn or not know how to plan their homework time. 

To support your child with their homework, arrange a time to go through it together. Encourage them to share what they’ve learned in class with you and tackle each section at a time.

And remember, if you don’t know how to answer a question — that’s totally okay! Parents aren’t expected to be homework experts, especially when you have other responsibilities. Simply let your child’s teacher know they find the task hard and may need some support.

Another option is getting a tutor for your child.

A tutor is a great investment for your child’s education that helps them tackle the hardest areas of their studies. But just like any investment, it’s important to find the right tutor who you can trust to support your child’s learning.

Taking your tutoring online is even more effective as it gives you and your child access to some of the best tutors around. Here at Prodigy, our online tutors are experienced and trusted math teachers who deliver engaging 1:1 sessions at your convenience. 

Book your free math tutoring session
father and son on a hike

8. Encourage healthy outdoor activity

With pressures like school and social media, it’s good for your child or preteen to disconnect and enjoy some fresh air.

Frequent exercise and activity supports your child’s physical development. Spending time outdoors also offers mental health benefits, especially if your child is learning remotely.

Try outdoor activities like:

  • Hiking
  • Cycling
  • Skating
  • Swimming
  • Team sports, like soccer and basketball
girl enjoying a pottery class

9. Help them explore their interests

Middle school is a great opportunity for your child to expand their horizons with new hobbies and interests. These interests will help them relax, make new friends and learn new skills for their future. 

Allow your child to explore their interests independently. Some children may want to do group activities like going to drama club or playing on the soccer team. Others may instead want to do relaxed activities like computer or art clubs. 

As a parent, it’s healthy to encourage your child to take on activities and stick to them. But if you find your child isn’t interested in a club after several weeks, talk with them to find out why and discover what else catches their interest. 

Some middle schools offer electives or the option to choose what topics they study. Electives are a great way for your child to explore an interest and be an independent learner at the same time. Your child may even discover a passion for a subject they want to take further at high school!

10. Give them some independence

Don’t forget to recognize your child’s independence as they go through middle school. 

Learning how to balance respecting your child’s independence and taking care of them isn’t the easiest of tasks. But you can start to give them independence when it comes to: 

  • Communicating — Explain to your child that independence comes with lots of exciting opportunities, but also plenty of responsibility. Talk about your expectations of their independence and the consequences if your child deliberately doesn’t meet them.
  • Managing money — Consider giving your child a small monthly allowance and teaching them how to save and budget for things like new games, clothes and events. 
  • Socializing — Allow your child to make choices about who they spend time with. Instead of directly intervening in their social circles, listen to your child’s feelings and guide them on how to resolve the situation.  
dad and son learning math online

Ongoing support for middle school and beyond

Even the smallest of things can have a big impact on your child’s happiness and success in middle school.

We know you’ll do an amazing job of supporting your middle schooler. But sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of extra help at home. 

That’s why Prodigy Math Game is here to help you and your child.

Our math game is specifically designed to support your child’s math learning as they explore new worlds, catch cute pets and take part in wizard battles. As your child plays Prodigy, they interact with educational math content tailored to their grade and powered by our algorithm to make their learning individualized to their needs. 

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