How to Create a Healthy Middle School Experience

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Your tween may be looking forward to attending middle school this year, and that's good news because middle school offers a lot of change and opportunity for students —lockers, extracurricular activities, and new friends, and teachers. If you want your child to get the most out of the middle school years, you'll need to develop a plan for a healthy and safe middle school experience. Here's how you can do that to ensure your tween gets the best possible start to the middle school years.

Plan a Safe and Healthy Middle School Experience

Schedule a check-up. Before your child begins middle school be sure to schedule a wellness check-up with his or her pediatrician. A wellness check will ensure that your child is up to date on vaccinations, and your tween will also be screened for hearing, vision, and scoliosis. Your child's doctor may also discuss topics such as puberty, drugs, weight, and bullying with your tween and offer pointers and support. Before you go to your appointment, ask your tween if there's anything that he or she would like to discuss with the doctor. Your tween may want advice on dealing with acne, menstrual cramps, or something else that you never considered.

Know about concussions and sports injuries. Concussions are a fairly typical injury that many student athletes experience. But your tween could experience a concussion while playing, riding a bike, or even while in gym class. Be sure both you and your tween know the symptoms of a concussion, and what to do if you think your child has experienced a head injury. Many schools require student athletes and their parents to watch a video on concussions or to sign a release stating that you were supplied with background information on concussion injuries, how to avoid them, and how to treat them.

If your child plays sports, he or she should also be aware of typical injuries for every sport played. Overuse injuries are common for young athletes and many of those injuries can be avoided with simple strategies. The school sports therapist is a great resource for learning ways to minimize injury and keep your child safe during sports season.

What's your after-school plan? If both parents work, establishing an after-school plan is essential to your child's well being and safety. Your tween is older now and may be mature enough to stay home alone for several hours at a time. But before you cut your tween loose, you should know your state or county's rule on minors staying home alone. You should also prepare your tween for emergencies. Who should your tween call if he can't reach you? Are there trusted neighbors your tween can rely on if he or she needs help? Also, put your rules in writing so that there are no misunderstandings. Is your tween allowed to have friends over while you're at work? Should your tween tackle homework or set the table while he or she's home alone? Take the time to develop a plan and educate your tween on your rules and expectations. Also, be sure your child knows where the first aid kit is located and how to use it for simple and common injuries. All other injuries will demand help from an adult.

What's your emergency plan? Emergencies happen, and they are never truly expected. Your tween is old enough to understand the importance of having a family emergency plan to turn to so that every member of the family knows what to do should the unexpected happen. If you can't contact your tween due to a storm, a power outage or some other event, what will your tween know to do? Make sure your tween has an understanding of where he or she can go for help, or what he or she is to do while waiting for word from you. Online emergency preparedness templates can help you think through a strategy that you can then put in writing for your tween. Possible things to consider might be:

  • Where should you meet if your child is at school, at home, or elsewhere?
  • Who your outside contact person should be if you can't get a hold of each other?
  • What should you do about pets or younger siblings?
  • What security words your family will use to identify each other?
  • Where important personal information should be kept for quick and easy access?

Talk about emotional health. Your child will go through puberty and deal with typical tween hygiene problems such as body odor, acne, and other issues. But your tween's physical health is only part of the story. Your tween's emotional health is just as important and is often overlooked by parents, teachers, and coaches. Be sure you are aware of your child's moods, behavior, and anxieties. Every tween will deal with issues of anxiety, stress, and even self-consciousness, but you'll need to know when those stresses are more than your tween can manage. Talk to your tween frequently about what's going on in his or her life, and be sure your child knows that he or she can turn to you for advice and support. If you have concerns about your child's self-image or emotional health, it might be worth contacting your tween's doctor for an emotional "check-up" just to make sure that everything is OK, and that your tween has the support he or she may require.

Make time for an after school life. Your tween will likely be very busy during the school year, and his or her academic responsibilities will increase. While your tween will be busy, it's important that he or she make time for a life outside of school. Now is the time for your tween to establish a work/life balance, and that means making time for friends, interests, and passions. Your child may choose to play for a sports team, to join the debate team or to start a business pet sitting. Support your tween's interests and help him or her improve their skills and abilities so that your child will grow academically and personally.

Talk about decision making. Your tween is getting older and is maturing. That means that in the coming months and years he or she will be in the position of making decisions without your input and that you may not ever even be aware of. Make a point of talking about responsible decision making with your tween. Discuss and role play possible situations such as what he or she should do when your child has to make a decision about cheating on a test, giving into peer pressure, or engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as smoking, drinking or driving with an impaired driver. Talking about your hopes and expectations for your child will help your tween when it comes time to make an important decision, and possibly even resist the desire to engage in something that's not in his or her best interest.

Review physical activity and nutrition. Your tween will likely be making eating and snacking choices on his or her own while at school and while at home alone. Middle school is an important time in your child's physical and emotional development and that means that nutrition is as important now as ever. Your older child understands the need for eating healthy foods to give him or her the energy they need to make it through school, athletics, and even the challenges of puberty. Review a healthy weekly menu with your child and allow your tween to help write the family menu and shopping lists. You may even put your child in charge of making certain meals or snacks for himself or the entire family. Make sure your tween knows how much calcium, vitamins, and minerals a growing body needs daily, and then compare those needs with what your child is actually consuming. Books and online resources can help you and your tween chart a healthy and nutritious path for this school year and next. 

Consider school health and responsibility. The school year will be a busy one, and during the course of the year, your child will likely become exposed to a variety of illnesses, from the common cold to the flu. Be sure you and your child's physician talk about illness prevention, and consider the advantage of the flu shot for your tween. Also, be sure your tween continues to practice healthy hygiene habits such as avoiding sharing drinks with others as well as hairbrushes to avoid the spread of head lice. You and your child should also know the school guidelines on when a child should stay home due to illness to avoid exposing other students. 

Provide resources. Your tween's body is changing and if puberty hasn't yet set in, it will. There will likely be questions and some of them your tween may not want to ask or discuss. Consider providing your tween with a reliable resource that will answer questions about puberty, body changes, and other challenges your tween might face. A good resource will cover puberty, acne, body image, nutrition, and the dangers of drugs and alcohol. You may need several resources to get you through the next few years, so try to find ones that are in sync with your own experiences and your expectations for your tween. 

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