This year has been a challenge, but we’ve made it through. To be honest, I wasn’t sure we would, even though I’ve walked this road with three other children. You see, my child is eleven years old.
I call this season of life, “Middle School Mania,” aka puberty. Middle School Mania is a type of temporary irrational and exaggerated emotional behavior that occurs anywhere from the ages of eleven and fourteen. Each one of my children has walked through this fire, and well, because I am their mom, I’ve had to go with them.
I have three boys and a girl. I thought I had middle school mania mastered because I’d been down that path three times with my boys. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. Middle school mania presents itself in different ways depending on gender and personality. With my boys, it disclosed itself with quite a bit of confusion, avoidance of schoolwork, the inability to write compositions of any kind, anxiety, pulling away from anything to do with me while preferring dad, along with an occasional explosive temper. It was often accompanied by six or more inches of growth in a year. My daughter, on the other hand, experienced confusion, anxiety, avoidance of schoolwork, exaggerated fear of math, an explosive temper followed by deep, regretful crying jags while alternately drawing close to me, and then pushing me away as far as she could. I had trouble keeping up with her emotional state on a moment by moment basis!
Early in my homeschooling journey, many homeschooling moms in my community were all about painting a pretty picture of their families. So, when my firstborn went through this, I thought I was the only one. Middle school mania was a secret that no one talked about. Thankfully, I was part of an online email loop (this was before Facebook was invented) and several dear, honest moms gave me the heads up. What my children were experiencing was normal. Normal! Phew! This year, I reached out to several of my local homeschooling friends as my daughter began her journey. Sure enough, almost every family with a preteen or teenager, was either going through this right now, or they had just emerged on the other side. It was a blessing to be able to encourage and pray for one another.
So let me encourage you. You are not alone, and your children need to know that they are not alone either.
My heart is to help you, mama. When I doled out consequences, demanded respect and allowed myself to become exasperated, my children’s behavior became worse and our relationship became strained. Eventually, I figured out that they never intentionally wanted to behave in a rebellious manner, and if I wanted to get through this time of life, I would have to adopt the Lord’s perspective. God helped me see that my children were experiencing a hormonal slurry, and they needed my help in learning how to manage the trials and temptations that come along with puberty. God led me to turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile as I counseled and guided them. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t give my young people consequences for their behavior, but it did mean that God required me to think proactively as I managed each young person’s behavior and provided spiritual guidance for their young hearts. In a nutshell, I had to take my thoughts captive, deny my own irritation, extend grace when I didn’t feel like it and tell the truth in bite size morsels appropriate for the situation at hand. That grace was a miracle everyday.
Eight Steps for Guiding and Encouraging Your Middle Schooler Through Puberty
Seek God. Let’s face it. We need spiritual nourishment to get through the middle school leg of our homeschooling journey. The terrain is tough! We need meat to chew on. Don’t rely on a Sunday sermon to get you through. Spend regular and consistent time with Jesus. You want to be so filled up on Him, that He spills over into your children’s lives. Being in the Word will position you to receive the Lord’s wisdom and grace for every circumstance. Seeking God is essential. Don’t skip your relationship with Him!
Pray for your child everyday. They need so much grace to grow through this difficult season. No two middle schoolers are exactly alike. Their spiritual and emotional needs will differ. Ask the Lord to show you where He wants you to pray.
Encourage good nutrition. Kids love junk, but junk food adds to the fog of puberty. I don’t cut out indulgent, comfort foods altogether, but I try to help my children set limits for themselves. Help them see how certain foods can influence how they feel. Encourage them to make healthy choices that make a positive difference in their day.
Educate your child on what is happening to their bodies. They will be relieved to know that mood swings, growing pains and awkwardness is normal and that everything will eventually normalize. Now is the time to begin an ongoing dialogue about the stewardship of their bodies, Biblical sexuality and integrity.
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My Favorite Books for Girls
Christian Resource: The Body Book (The Lily Series)
For Mom or Dad to Read with Daughter: Preparing Your Daughter for Every Woman’s Battle: Creative Conversations About Sexual and Emotional Integrity (The Every Man Series)
My Favorite Books for Boys
Christian Resource: The Ultimate Guys’ Body Book: Not-So-Stupid Questions About Your Body
For Dad or Mom to Read with Son: Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle: Honest Conversations About Sexual Integrity (The Every Man Series)
Require exercise. This is so important! Our young people need a means to work off their frustration and irritation. My boys participated in a church Tae Kwon Do group, hiked, and swam on a swim team. My daughter prefers Wii Fit, bike riding, skateboarding and swimming. Find a way to incorporate physical fitness into your family’s routine. Exercise promotes mental health and a good night’s rest. While you are making sure your family is exercising, make sure you get moving too!
Consider adding interest led projects to your homeschooling. My eldest son was fascinated by survival skills. He learned orienteering, how to build a survival shelter in various terrain, hiking, canoeing, and more. He earned his hunting license, mastered archery and rifle shooting. He built his own bow, wove his own casting net and learned to track animals. My other children taught themselves guitar, drums, mandolin and piano. My eleven year old daughter is a pet sitter, and has decided to branch out into babysitting, so she’s taking an online class with the Red Cross this summer, and has chosen to take a CPR and First Aid class next year. Interest led learning keeps the young person moving forward as their physical bodies are being transformed.
Make time for discussion and relationship with your child. Enter their world. My young sons were midnight owls, so I met them there. We had many a late night discussion as they poured their hearts out, shared their fears, or talked about their interests and dreams. With my daughter, swimming at the local spring, or baking cookies in the afternoon has a tendency to ripen her heart for discipleship. In addition, I try to make a point to serve my children during the day. “That lesson looks tough. Let me make you a cup of tea and we’ll sit down and talk about how you might be able to tackle it.” Too many times, I’ve seen parents speak with young people as though they are barking orders through a megaphone. I’ve learned that building a bridge and walking over into their world is better.
Yes, young people should respect and obey mom and dad, but a child’s disobedience and disrespect does not give a parent license to respond rashly or without courtesy. Parents can set boundaries, enforce rules, require accountability and do so with love and kindness. Ask the Lord to help you live out love, grace and accountability.
Persevere. My encouragement is not a prescription for an easy middle school experience. Mom, it will be hard. Your child may hurt your heart. You will be exhausted. You will want to give up. Make up your mind to persevere, no matter what. Trust the Lord. He is at work and will bring you through if you believe and follow Him. Remember, it is in our weakness that His power is made perfect. His grace is sufficient. (See 2 Corinthians 12:9)
As this school year comes to a close, I can report that my daughter is beginning to come through the fog. The negative demeanor is being subdued and she is making steadfast progress. It has been a really hard journey, but there are spiritual flowers budding and I believe there will be a great harvest in the future.
Homeschooling during the middle years is not always easy, but you are not alone. Jesus is with you, and if you reach out to other moms, you will likely find that they are there too. Remember, you can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives you strength. (Philippians 4:13)
My Favorite Books to Encourage Mom
Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions
The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands
Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe
Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, Second Edition (Resources for Changing Lives)
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Resources for Changing Lives)