By Françoise Lartigue, M.Ed., Ready4K senior content and curriculum specialist
When I was in the throes of parenting toddler twins and a preschooler, bleary eyed and physically exhausted, a friend with older children said, “Don’t worry it’ll shift. Parenting young children is mostly physically demanding. Parenting older kids is more mentally demanding.” “Oh”, I said, “so are you telling me it gets easier?” She responded with laughter, “No, just different.”
She was absolutely correct.
A few months ago one of my twins, now 10, and I were having a disagreement over appropriate attire for a family gathering. We found ourselves going around in circles as one does when trying to make a point. Who could have guessed that the request to wear a shirt could create such BIG feelings?
Frustrated, I blurted out, “Why are you making me ‘parent’ so much?!” To which he laughed, and playfully replied, “That’s my job!” I (unsuccessfully) tried to stifle my laughter. After performing more mental gymnastics, I was able to convince him to wear an appropriate shirt. He did get to negotiate about the shoes.
The shift had happened. And it made me think back to how much physical energy I used to spend dressing him when he was little. The strategies I used to wrangle him still long enough to get him fully dressed. Coaxing limbs into shirts and pants that would rather be running and jumping. Now that I am the parent of adolescents, my parenting tool belt consists of strategies that require mental energy. Listening, questioning, reasoning, humor, and patience. LOTS of patience.
As educators, you know that parenting adolescents isn’t easier. But it is different.
The Work of Early Adolescents (and Their Parents)
My son’s “that’s my job” statement also caused me to pause and reflect on all the work my kids, like all adolescents, are doing as they grow. We all know that when kids are working hard to grow and learn, their parents and caregivers are too.
Supporting parents and caregivers during this pivotal time of development has never been so important. The “job” that adolescents are doing is a BIG one. And caregivers need educators to help them understand it.
You know that the early adolescent period (ages 10 until about 14) is filled with significant physical, mental, emotional, and social growth. Kids start to get taller, stronger, and develop to look more adult. Coping with all of the physical change is just the beginning.
Socially and emotionally, kids this age are trying to figure out who they are. To understand what their place in the world is. They seek more independence while also still needing support at home. Their friendships often take on greater importance and influence in their lives.
No wonder parents need new and different kinds of support! They’ve got a new “job,” too.
A New Perspective Takes Perspective
Early adolescents start to see the world in different ways, less concrete and more abstract. This can lead to lots of questions between your students and their caregivers. And probably a few arguments. Especially if their developing belief system doesn’t align with their parents’ already established one. Young adolescents are learning to cope with new and different emotions in a more mature way. This work doesn’t always happen smoothly. Which can mean they may say and do things without realizing the effect that it has on those around them.
(Yep, been there and experienced that! And your families are likely experiencing that, too.)
And of course, there’s more. At this age, kids often experience an increase in expectations and responsibilities both at school and at home. We know that building those muscles are important. So we absolutely encourage families to give their adolescents opportunities to take responsibility in age-appropriate ways. But for both families and children, this can feel extra challenging. Many kids this age are figuring out time management and are learning decision-making skills, so it’s definitely a hands-on experience for your families.
That’s a pretty lengthy “job” description for a 10 – 14 year old! It’s a good thing that their adolescent brains are specifically wired for all the learning, growth, and discovery that’s happening.
But this “job” is not a solo gig, even though early adolescents may act like they want it to be. The importance of parental support and involvement at this age can’t be underestimated. And while kids’ brains may be wired for this moment, the adults around them could often use a little more support.
What Parents Need from Educators
Research shows that strong, positive relationships between kids and their caregivers means kids have the support necessary to navigate the work of growing up. For parents and caregivers, the shift from parenting a young child to an early adolescent can feel huge. It’s exciting and overwhelming at the same time. Many parents may find that they need new strategies for navigating this time period in positive and nurturing ways.
Due to the natural shift towards independence that kids experience at this age, it also happens to be the time that many parents and caregivers find that they are receiving less information from schools. While this makes sense, kids this age are meant to be taking on more responsibility for things. It can oftentimes leave families feeling overall less connected and wondering how best to give their maturing child support.
In short, Grade 5 families are looking for new tools for their parenting toolkit. Tools that will help them:
- Understand the physical, social and emotional growth that happens during adolescence.
- Stay connected to what’s happening in school.
- Support homework, attendance and learning.
- Build all the skills kids will need to be more independent and take on new responsibilities in and out of school.
- Help adolescence navigate challenging moments and thrive no matter what may come their way.
And that’s exactly what we’ve been working on here at ParentPowered (home of Ready4K)! As of Monday September 6, 2021 our CORE and Trauma Informed programs will grow to include Grade 5. Supporting early adolescents, ages 10 – 11, and their families in the same Ready4K way families know and love.
Extending our evidence based family engagement Core curriculum through Grade 5 means we can offer partners the ability to empower and support their families during this pivotal time of early adolescent development.
Serving Grade 5 Families the ParentPowered Way
Our team created the curriculum for Grade 5 using the same whole child and standards-aligned approach, as always. We know this strategy works for families of children at any age.
As we developed the Grade 5 whole child curriculum for our Core program, we ensured we were creating messages tailored to the key developmental and academic needs of children at this age. As a result, the program covers Literacy, Math and Social Emotional Learning with an added focus on building key Executive Functioning skills to support independence and growth.
“I have three kids, ages 9, 3, and 6 months. Now when we go to the store, we just play!
Even when we go to sleep. For at least thirty minutes, I look at the messages and make up my own silly things to do.”
Parent enrolled in Ready4K
For families in our Trauma-Informed program, we took care to align both to the protective factors framework and to the needs of Grade 5 families. Our Ready4K Trauma-Informed Curriculum is designed to help parents and caregivers buffer the effects of trauma by strengthening the five protective factors. So as with all grades served, the Grade 5 parents will receive easy to do activities and highly implementable strategies to support the growth of their child’s academic and social emotional skills.
Additionally, the Trauma-Informed curriculum focuses on helping families to feel strong, not stressed. We offer specific and age appropriate strategies for managing their response to stressful situations and ways to function well as they navigate challenges. This program is geared to helping families bounce back when they face adversity. Families feel supported and engaged. This can be particularly important when the challenges families are facing are combined with the natural conflict between adolescents and their grown ups.
Middle School on the Horizon
Grade 5 marks just the beginning of early adolescence. And because kids keep growing, changing and learning, the support that families require evolves, too. The Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center (OSFEC) says it well, “Family engagement in education doesn’t stop after elementary school. It’s just as important, but it looks and sounds different.” The conversations around the necessity of keeping families engaged in their middle school child’s school and education are deepening these days. If you’re looking for more ways to support your Grades 6 to 8 families, the OSFEC is a hub of middle school family engagement resources.
And keep reading our blog, because we’ll also continue to share resources for supporting families of adolescents. The journey has just begun.