Parents, especially the ones who have their first born in middle school, are freaking out. New rhythms, new ways of life they didn’t have to walk before, their kid turning into someone else before their eyes. Welcome to middle school. It’s a whole new world when you inherit a middle schooler—and everyone in your house knows it.

I had a parent approach me explaining her 7th grade son’s behavior. She said, “I don’t know what it is, but one day he does something really surprising and mature and the next day I turn around and think ‘Oh my gosh! What the heck are you doing?!’” She is describing the middle school brain. Concrete but not yet abstract. On top of that, their physical bodies are changing, and they are developing a new sense of self, wondering who they are. And at the same time, pre-teens don’t respond the same to their own parents, which leaves parents feeling helpless and lost. There is a sense of insecurity for a parent that comes with that, which can be damaging to the relationship between a parent and student when a parent responds to their students’ behaviors by backing off inch by inch.

No wonder this is tough stage for parents! They used to have a kid who knew who they were and was comfortable in their own body, and now they have a pre-teen who is questioning who they are and test running everything they know. They don’t listen as well, they require more patience, and life looks different now than it did before. And with all of this, students still need their parents.

Parent partnership is crucial to parent-student relationship. And to parents, partnership is HUGE. But most of the time, they don’t know they need it until they receive it. I have gotten countless “thank you’s” from parents for sending parent newsletters with articles on parenting, for being intentional about making sure their student gets connected, and taking the time to affirm and see their students. For a junior higher, this is everything, and for a parent, this is everything too—to know there is a place for their student to go that is safe, welcoming and inviting and that their student is seen and loved. Parents will tell you when you are making a difference and will reach out if we are intentional to build the relationship first.

To come alongside parents, we must know parents. We also must know their students. If we don’t know parents, we can’t help. And if we don’t know students, we can’t help either. So, the more we know both our parents and students, the better. This is the first place to start. It is easier to know students because they show up every week, for parents, it’s more difficult. Go out of your way to make parent contact. Go out to the spot where the students get dropped off and picked up, send texts each week to update parents and weekly emails to keep them in the know about what’s going on. Even if they don’t respond, they appreciate your interaction and will feel comfortable to reach out should they need help at some point in time. It’s a given.

Remember, you are cultivating relationship, and relationship takes time. And it will be for your benefit as you lead and for the benefit of the student in the long run.

– Kristen Carter