Four Lessons of How to Navigate Through The Tumultuous Middle School Years

I hate middle school,” a friend recently messaged me, asking for advice in a difficult moment.  I know those moments very well.  My kids are three years apart, so I have a revolving door of middle schoolers, with one leaving the tumultuous stage how to navigate thru middle schoolwhile another is entering.

Navigating middle school is scary for parent and child. Kids are trying to break free and be independent while everything around them is quickly changing. They’re trying to find their identity. Hormones are raging. Caution signs flash everywhere for good reason.  While they’re pushing you away faster than you want them to, they still need and want you.

As a teacher and counselor, I’ve seen many teens form their identity around unhealthy peer groups or engage in dangerous behavior because the struggle for identity is so great. Navigating your child through this time can be tiring – having one hand on them while also letting go. It’s a fine line, and sometimes you don’t know where the line is.

When my firstborn went through middle school, a friend told me even though my child was pushing me away, she still needed me. Who would have guessed words of “I hate you” also meant “I need you.”

Hind sight is better than foresight. I’m glad we’ve made it through the middle school years with three out of our four kids.  We’ve learned a lot the hard way. But I can’t vacation yet. Each child is different and knowing what each one needs at various developmental stages is a big job.  It requires knowing a child’s “bents.”  It requires patience and perseverance.  It requires loving them when they are least lovable.

Four lessons I’ve learned from the middle school parenting journey include:

  1. Giving teens space when they ask for it. It’s one of the ways they feel heard and understood, even in a heated moment.  It builds parental credibility in the eyes of your middle schooler, and develops trust when they decide to open up to you, on their time.
  2. Understanding teen words are part of their development.  “You don’t understand” and “You don’t know anything” was offensive to me the first round and I fought against it.  But understanding that it is part of the process of kids exploring their identity and separating from mom and dad helps in hearing it the second, third and fourth times.
  3. Giving kids opportunities to excel.  Middle School is a place where kids need to build confidence in some area. Finding their gifts and interests and making time to get them involved in those activities is important. You may need to look outside what their school offers.  Building their confidence while building friendships with other kids with their area of interest is essential.
  4. Letting your child feel special and unique. When you’re with your child one-on-one, tell them things about themselves that make them different from their siblings.  I’ve put this into practice with all of our kids, acknowledging their differences while celebrating their uniqueness, letting them know their special place of honor.

When our children were young, I bought them each a book unique to their place in  faourmily. For one child, I bought the book, “I Love You the Purplest” by Barbara Joosse.  It’s about a mom who sees a competitive spirit between her boys. She explains to each son how she loves them as individuals for their unique characteristics.  She lets them know she sees them in their own special way.

For middle school teens, this is the secret message each one needs to hear.

  • They are understood.
  • They are seen.
  • They are known.
  • They are loved for who they are.

Middle school years can be the worst of times, but also the best of times as kids gain the strength, confidence, and courage in their own identity.  

How have you helped your middle-schooler through these years? What do you remember from your own experience that would help today’s parents?  We’d love to hear from you!


The following two tabs change content below.
Brenda has a Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a BA in education. She's a speaker, freelance writer, author, counselor and teacher who's spent two decades working with and raising teenagers. She's a mom of four, from middle school to young adult, and lives with her family on a farm in Indiana. She writes about life, faith, and parenting beyond the storybook image at Life Beyond the Picket Fence at

Latest posts by Brenda Yoder (see all)


  1. says

    First, can I just say that it’s so refreshing to click on a “tips” article that’s actually full of helpful tips!! So quick question: I was just wondering what you suggest saying to a kid when they tell you that you don’t understand. Do you try to explain how you do, ask them to elaborate, let it go, agree with them… Or do what you think is appropriate for the particular situation? I guess what I’m asking is, when they say that, are they LOOKING for something from you.
    Tammy recently posted..If They Could Just Stay Little — How to Make a MemoryMy Profile

    • says

      Tammy, such a good question. When they say, “you don’t understand,” it’s important to listen to what they’re saying behind the words. In the heated moment they really don’t want to hear how you understand them because they literally don’t believe you do. By listening to the content of what they don’t think you understand {is it a friendship issue, a self-esteem issue, etc}, you can process it and talk to them about it in non-conflict times. The difficult thing during the middle school years and some teen years is that teens have huge blind spots in communication as they are developing their own identity and independent thinking. By listening to what’s behind the words “You don’t understand” or “I hate you” allows you to get to their hurt in the situation. When they begin to know you really “hear” what they’re saying, then some credibility starts building up. Don’t be offended by the “You don’t understands” and “I hate you’s” – they are a louder cry for some angst going on in their life. And sometimes feeling understood by you is just listening without trying to fix it – a great struggle for us parents! Great question – thanks for asking. I’ve been there!
      Brenda L. Yoder, MA recently posted..Why I Can’t Do Everything and What You Can Learn By Doing NothingMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge