How to Help Your Middle Schooler Focus on School Throughout Life’s Challenges

The middle school years are tough even when things are going well. The transition from the single classrooms of elementary school to the multiple teachers of middle school is jarring. Social pressure also ramps up, as young students start to worry about fitting in.

Unfortunately for some middle school students, this already-challenging stage of life is accompanied by disruptive events at home:

  • Divorce
  • Loss of a parent or family member
  • Loss of a home
  • Illness

These events can shake a middle schooler to his core. How can you prevent them from stealing your child’s focus away from his education?

They key, says school psychologist Jonathan Goldberg, is maintaining consistency.

“School can be a very stable force in the midst of change,” he says. “Children need that stability and that consistency to help them with other areas of their life that have become unstable.”

Here are three of Dr. Goldberg’s tips for helping your middle schooler maintain consistency at school while life is in turmoil at home.

1. Stick to the routine.

During chaotic times, a predictable routine is comforting to middle schoolers, Dr. Goldberg explains.

“Maintaining a routine can be very difficult for parents, particularly when they’re going through some significant change,” he says. “But making sure your child gets to school on time, trying not to change up their regular routines, makes children feel very safe.”

A nurturing school community like The Fessenden School’s, where children are under the watch of caring teachers and staff, can take some of the pressure off of parents.


“At a school like Fessenden, when children are there, they’re pretty well covered. They’re taken care of when parents are feeling depleted themselves,” Dr. Goldberg says.

2. Keep the communication channels open.

Middle school-aged children should not be left to their own imaginations about what is going on in their family.  “It may be difficult to talk about illness, death, or divorce with your child, but your honest version of the story will almost always be more comforting than the version inside your child’s head,” Dr. Goldberg explains

In the case of divorce, especially, open communication with both parents is essential.

“I often recommend that parents reassure their children about safety and that, although this occurrence has happened, that they are there for them. They are there to take care of them. They’re going to be OK. The things in their life which they’ve become reliant upon are not going to change,” Dr. Goldberg counsels.

3. Stay in touch with your child’s teachers and guidance counselors.

Teachers and guidance counselors often serve as the “eyes and ears” for parents when their families are dealing with difficulties. These professionals know the signs to look for in a child’s behavior and they can offer insight to parents on how their children are adjusting.

But first you have to let educators know what’s happening at home.

“Our awareness of a child’s situation at home is dictated by our knowledge of what’s going on,” Dr. Goldberg points out. “If a parent doesn’t provide us with that information, often it’s hard to understand and interpret the changes that we’re seeing and to put them in context.”

What do you think of Dr. Goldberg’s advice? What else can parents do to keep their children focussed through challenging times? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more middle school parenting advice, browse other Grades 5-9 posts.

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