During middle school, parents still matter when it comes to homework

Middle school is one of those magical, maddening times for parents. Students in this age group have developed something of a bad rep, likely due to the big emotions and clumsy attempts at staking out for more independence. But what’s often overlooked is that this is actually a fascinating time. During the middle-school years, kids experience more growth, mentally and physically, than any other time since they were babies. In the brain, the prefrontal cortex is starting to develop, and you begin to see trappings of abstract thinking and analysis starting to emerge. In other words, during middle school, kids are starting to put away childish things.

Here, they are entering a new phase of their academic careers, too, one where good habits and the ability to take advantage of opportunities will have a lasting effect on their futures. At this stage, you’ll be less involved with their day-to-day schoolwork, but there are still opportunities to encourage and support your student.

Set expectations: They’ll want to be more independent than they were in elementary school, but let them know you expect homework and projects to be completed on time and to the best of their abilities. They should also set aside a certain time each day for homework and studying.

Provide the setting and tools: Make sure your middle-schooler has a quiet place for nothing but studying. This is a good age for students to begin using a planner, too, whether it’s paper or digital. Using one can help them keep track of what is due and when, and they can also use it to break bigger projects into smaller tasks with deadlines. To help them develop their time-management skills and habits, ask them to make a to-do list that identifies how long each task should take.

Help them find motivation: A major barrier to homework at this age is confronting a topic that doesn’t interest them. One way to offer encouragement is to tell a story. Talk about a task you love to put off and how you still find ways to tackle it. There’s also this neat runner’s trick: motivate yourself to keep going by setting short goalposts. By focusing fully for five minutes at a time on the dreaded task, it’ll be over before you know it.

Help them over the hump: This is an age when they begin to take on bigger projects and are expected to prepare for longer exams. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but there are ways to lend a helping hand just to get things going. You might lead a brainstorming session on term-paper topics, or help them come up with a study plan to review difficult concepts for a larger exam.

Hang in there: Some study sessions, and let’s face it, some semesters, will be tougher than others. Just remember this is a key time in a student’s life. The foundation you lay today will prepare them for complex subjects in high school and beyond.

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