Of course parents want their kids to do well in reading, writing and arithmetic, but how will they score when it comes to handling more responsibility? A Baylor College of Medicine child and adolescent psychiatrist suggests parents consider their child's maturity level to help them score high marks in responsibility.
"Middle school is typically the time when kids are hitting the maturity level where they can handle more responsibility, such as leaving and coming home from school with more limited parental supervision. But it's important to remember that every child is different," said Dr. Laurel Williams, assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at BCM.
"Parents know their own kids and should think about their child's strengths and weaknesses when assigning greater responsibility."
Some signs that kids are ready to handle more responsibility include completing chores and other tasks without being reminded multiple times and knowing their parents' contact information.
"Those are important indicators that a child is ready for more responsibility," Williams said.
But even for kids high in maturity, it's a good idea to have a buddy system in place, she said. If there are other kids in the neighborhood going to the same school, they can head to the bus stop or walk to school together and help be responsible for each other. Kids and parents should be sure to exchange phone numbers so they can inform each other of any change of plans.
If kids are going to be packing their own lunch or purchasing a school lunch for the first time, make sure they know how to make good choices instead of filling up with sweet or salty treats, Williams said.
Middle school is a big jump in responsibility in other ways as well. Typically children move from having just one or two classrooms to negotiate to moving between multiple classrooms.
"I recommend that families do rehearsals, particularly if their child gets overwhelmed or anxious. Find out from the school if you can take your child there in advance so they can walk the halls and even practice their locker combination," Williams said.
Peer groups become more important and influential to kids at this age, she added. Parents should know who their kids are hanging out with and develop a routine where they talk to their children without any distractions. "When talking with your kids, try not to offer your opinion, because that's the best way to shut a kid down. Remain neutral so you can elicit information, and when they tell you something upsetting or alarming, try to handle it without getting emotional," she said.
With a little planning, parents and children alike will be ready for the increased responsibilities and new challenges that often come with getting older and starting a new school.
"Know your own child. Know their strengths and be mindful of weaknesses and difficulties. Don't thrust too much responsibility on them at one time. Give them a little bit as you think they are ready and if they handle it well, consider adding more," she said.