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Helping Your Middle Schooler Navigate Ups and Downs

Posted by Terry Cross on Sep 18, 2018 7:00:00 AM

Do you remember the 1970’s “Dr. Doolittle” with Rex Harrison? There was this unusual creature called the “Pushmi-pullyu”(pronounced Push-Me-Pull-You).  No one was ever exactly sure what was the front of them.  This describes pre-teens!

Even though a middle-schooler might score a goal at recess, create the perfect political map, and lead an insightful group discussion during reading time, they’ll come home and burst into tears, saying it was The Worst Day EVER!  Why?  Because they are a “Pushmi-pullyu!”

push me pull you middle schoolers ups and downs

You may find yourself at a loss—often.

One minute they are playful children, the next, brooding strangers.  Eager to have adult benefits, resistant to be given adult responsibilities.  You can’t predict what will set them off. Woe be to the parent who says no, and heaven forbid you be “that parent” who makes the pre-party phone call to check in with the hosting parents.  (I remember reminding my son I would be negligent if I did not make that phone call. The mom was delighted to hear from me; my son was in agony.)

It’s a tricky time as your roles change from assisting to merely guiding, overseeing, and mentoring.  Sometimes they need straight out punishment but sometimes they need a kid glove. What’s a parent to do?

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to pass along, some piece of advice that will make this phase go easily.


But here are a few tips:

1) Don’t take it personally (yes, the hardest tip is first!).  Much of what they are doing is actually grieving the loss of childhood.  You may see all the stages of grief: denial (“It’s not my fault!”), anger (slam!), bargaining (“If you would just . . .”), depression (“Nobody likes me”). Over and over. Be patient, take a step back, and recognize their struggles are real but usually temporary. Don’t be afraid—young people have been making their way into adulthood since time began.

brylan caimbree gann middle school girl father2) Don’t try to fix.  Stepping in to handle their situations can actually hamper their development.  A listening ear is better.

3) Keep your perspective.  Remember that you also grappled your way from adolescence to adulthood.  “This too shall pass.” In fact, it helps to keep in touch with parents who have gone through this.  They can help you laugh and cry, and they can also give you hope that the end will be in sight in a few years.

4) Stay friends with your children but maintain your position as authority.  They need stability and security more than a buddy. Your sure, calm stance will provide this vital ingredient.

5) If talking face to face becomes strained, write notes!  Put sticky notes of encouragement on their bathroom mirror.  Add Scripture!

Finally, the best news of all:  remember there is a Heavenly Father who beckons parents to himself.  Here is an apt verse from Isaiah 33:6,writing scripture on walls, middle school teacher

"He will be the sure foundation for your times,

A rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge"


The fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.

Seems to apply right here, doesn’t it?  Your times. This tense but tender time which calls for thick skin and a tamed tongue.  He will be the sure foundation for you now. And he has a treasure chest of wisdom to help!  

You still might not know what to do with that “Pushmi-pullyu,” but you'll be joyfully secure in your own role as child of God.

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Topics: Parenting, Family Fun, Classical Christian