As a history teacher at a middle school that serves nearly 1,000 students and their families, I have the privilege of being surrounded by middle schoolers all day long during the week. I’m also raising two middle schoolers – 6th and 7th graders respectively – so my current day-in, day-out is Middle School City. And I love nearly every single bit of it.
While many of us were probably traumatized at least once or twelve times during this awkward phase (myself included), middle school children are my favorite. My absolute favorite. And one reason why is because there is so much opportunity for them to learn and grow before they enter the challenging years of high school.
No matter how physically well our children are, if their self-confidence and self-esteem are lacking, they will struggle.
One of the struggles I see middle school students facing is a lack of self-confidence. Because students between the ages of 11 and 14 are just now starting to get a sense of themselves as individuals, they often don’t know or trust their own value and abilities. Studies show that self-confidence plays a strong role in the mental and physical health of youth. No matter how physically well our children are, if their self-confidence and self-esteem are lacking, they will struggle. A lot. With friends and family members. In their academics. In virtually every area of their lives.
I know that’s a pretty heavy thought to consider, but there is good news, y’all. As parents and leaders of youth all around us, there is a lot we can do to help our children grow and flourish in this area.
Earlier this year, I had the honor of speaking to parents of entering sixth graders in our community about how they could set their child up for success in middle school. As I am working now to implement these tricks of the trade with my own children, I have been encouraged by how my sons are growing into independent, strong-minded and caring young men.
Four Ways to Build Your Child’s Self-Confidence
Let your child make choices. We can stifle our kids by telling them what to do and when to do it. Giving choices doesn’t mean my sons can do anything they want, but it helps them develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Encourage your child’s efforts. I have a tendency to praise my kid’s talents instead of encouraging his effort. In her article, “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids,” Carol Dweck ruminates on the idea that if we want to propel our children to success, we should focus on their effort, not their intelligence or talent. If I’m hyper-focused on how smart my kid is or how well he plays the trombone, then I am probably setting him up for failure and a fear of taking on challenges. So instead of saying, “Luke, you’re a great trombone player!” I might say something like, “I’m really proud of how you dedicate yourself to practicing trombone every night. I think that’s awesome.” Shifting our perspective from our kid’s talent to their work ethic can make all the difference in the world.
Keep communication lines open. Middle school students are known for giving one-word answers to questions. Does any of this sound familiar?
“How was your day?”
“Did you learn anything today?”
“Do you want a snack?”
“Is there anything you want to tell me about your day?”
I know it can be frustrating, so try more open-ended questions like these instead: What do you like about your classes? Which teacher are you learning the most from? What’s happening this week that you’re excited about?
No matter how tight-lipped your child might be, keep showing up. Keep asking thoughtful questions. And when your child is talking to you, make sure you’re paying attention.
Don’t rescue your kids from their mistakes. This is one of the biggest parenting failures I see. And it might be the most detrimental. When we bail our kids out of their consequences, we’re communicating a lot of hidden messages to them.
We’re communicating that we don’t think they have what it takes to solve a problem. We’re communicating that our kids don’t have to be responsible for their decisions. We’re communicating that we will fix every problem in their lives.
In order to develop grit and determination, our kids need to experience tough times.
In order to develop grit and determination, our kids need to experience tough times. They need to encounter problems, navigate them (with our help as needed) and come out on the other side stronger and better prepared for life than before. If you allow your child to experience failure, you are empowering them to embrace life with a growth mindset that is open to change.
If you have a middle schooler or will at any point in the future, consider how these quick tips can help you build up your child’s self-confidence levels and set them up for success in many other areas in their life. And know that while the middle school years are most definitely challenging at times, but we can do this, mamas and daddies.