Middle School Muddle: What to do when School is Less than Perfect
Q: My daughter started middle school this year and she hates it. She says the kids are mean and the teachers are mean. She’s kind of a perfectionist and I’m worried that maybe she drives people away, but she had friends in elementary school. I’m not sure what to do. How can I help her?
A: You’ are already on the way to helping your daughter by the way you seem to know her and are listening to her concerns without judging her. There are a number of possibilities here, and you might want to be prepared for the different directions her responses might take.
If you start with the issue of hating school, help her break that down into something that she might be able to influence. What, specifically, is it she hates? The schoolwork? If so, would tutoring help? The students? Is this the first time she is struggling with friends? If her friends have gone to other schools, maybe you could arrange for a get-together so they can share their new experiences. Are there problems specific to middle school such as traveling from class to class?
You know some of the answers that might be influencing her current mood. Has school been a good experience for her in the past? If it has, then what is different this year? What made the past years good for her? Is change hard for her? What have you done in the past to help her through transitions?
You mentioned there is a possibility that perfectionism may be the culprit. You probably already know that this trait can help her strive for excellence, but it may also make her give up for too easily when she meets obstacles. Perfectionism may lead her to tears when she thinks she has missed the mark.
Does she expect others to have the same high standards she possesses for herself? How have you handled her disappointment, frustration, and anger when others don’t think as she does or meet her expectations in other ways? How do family members respond to being judged? What are her moods when she is too harshly judging herself? Might she want help (counseling or a good book) regarding an ongoing sense of always missing the mark that she has set for herself?
Your goal as a mother is to help your daughter step outside of herself and her situation so that she can begin to learn how to identify specifically what is making her feel negatively about school. By listening and questioning, you may also help her identify her feelings about why others are being mean to her.
You want to provide an atmosphere where she learns how to handle problems on her own, or with a little help. If you feel that her perfectionism is driving others away from her or causing her to withdraw, then you may want to help her see that, and learn how to ask for help when she needs it. You have done a great job! You can tell by the fact that she is asking for help!
Here are ways to help without judging:
1. Listen patiently with love and support as your daughter describes her situation.
2. Avoid the urge to be too helpful by suggesting answers. Be the expert at helping your child brainstorm ideas about how to turn the situations around independently.
3. If there is a mean child or mean teacher, help your child develop the skills to stand up for herself either in asking for a conversation with both you and the teacher or by standing up to the mean child safely. If that is not your child’s style, brainstorm ways to ignore the behavior, get help from others or ask for help from the school.
4. Coach her in changing her teacher’s attitude toward her. Being polite, smiling, completing assignments on time, asking questions, paying attention, being prepared and taking notes will all help her teacher see her as an engaged student.
5. Be prepared to act as an advocate for your child if the need arises. Otherwise, trust her to advocate for herself. Know that she will learn all of the skills from watching you and her father. If either of you have struggled with perfectionism, school bullies, or teachers who didn’t like you, what did you do to take charge of the situation? Allow yourself to share tough times from your past.
- What to Do When Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough: The Real Deal on Perfectionism: A Guide for Kids by Thomas S. Greenspon (Paperback -Mar 15, 2007)
- Don’t Pick On Me: Help for Kids to Stand Up to & Deal with Bullies (Instant Help) by Susan Green
- The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond by Donna Goldberg and Jennifer Zwiebel
- Freeing Our Families from Perfectionism [Paperback] byThomas S. Greenspon