The Needs of Your Middle School Child

The seven developmental needs of early adolescents guide us in the ways we can influence our child's development, building protective factors for greater independence and reducing his exposure to the risks of adolescence.


  1. Positive Social Interactions
  2. Structure and Clear Limits
  3. Physical Activity
  4. Creative Expression
  5. Competence and Achievement
  6. Meaningful Participation in Family, School, Community
  7. Opportunities for Self-Definition

Positive Social Interactions

Find new ways to be together as a family. Hobbies and activities that involve both parent and child keep the bonds of early childhood growing. Playing together takes on new forms as children's interests and competencies expand. Family fun activities build opportunities for conversation, a critical skill for families moving into the adolescent years. Make your home preteen friendly. When your child's friends feel comfortable and happy in your home, your child's peer-social interactions naturally increase.

Build relationships within the new school. Model and teach respect for teachers. Take advantage of parent involvement opportunities, and keep a positive attitude when everything is not perfect at your child's school.

Structure and Clear Limits

You have to spell out the rules for middle school kids. Even the most responsible ten to twelve-year old doesn't have the skills to set his own limits. Kids in middle school want to know the rules, at home and at school, and the vast majority try to conform to the expectations adults have for them. Though we lament the passing of unstructured play for kids today, the truth is that kids need structure in their daily lives. With all the internal changes that are taking place in a middle schooler, external structure and clear limits are absolutely essential for the child's healthy development. Before your child starts middle school, take time to learn and explain the routines and the rules at his new school section. Restructure your home routine to accommodate increased study time and participation in extracurricular activities.

Physical Activity

It's worth the time and effort to involve your child in sports in middle childhood. Though most sports programs are competitive, responsible coaches and programs keep it fun for all the kids. If your child doesn't enjoy one sport, simply introduce her to something different for an hour. For most kids, this is a time of trying out new physical activities and, we hope, finding one or more to engage them in physical activity for a lifetime.

Creative Expression

Children who are just entering middle childhood haven't developed the type of creative thinking and expresssion that will emerge during the next few years. Children at this age enjoy creative activities that involve skill-building such as dance and music, and are practical such as crafts and construction. In the arts, middle school children are focused on the finished product, the recital or exhibition or play.Don't be discouraged if your middle school child's creative works don't seem that creative. Imitation is how he expresses his creativity now; individual expression will grow as he does.

Competence and Achievement

Remember that mastery is the primary task of the elementary years. Achievement at school is the most crucial area of mastery for older children. If your child is beginning middle school as a struggling reader, now is the time to intervene with a formal evaluation and intensive remediation and accommodation for success in the advanced coursework of middle school and beyond.

Though some children are beginning to specialize in their areas of competence (music, sports, math, etc.) most middle schoolers are still learning a variety of skills with varying levels of success. Have high expectations in those areas that are critical such as school, but be accepting of imperfection in most attempts at mastery. Kids need to learn a healthy acceptance of failure and the value of just trying new things. Give recognition to your child in his achievements. Celebrate his accomplishments and let him catch you telling others about the positive things he does. Make it a big deal that he gets great report cards. When you give him recognition, you teach him to recognize and appreciate his own competence and achievement.

Meaningful Participation in Family, School, Community

Older children are ready and eager for meaningful participation in their family and the world around them. They still have a lot to learn though; so don't expect a high level of commitment yet. Middle school children still have rather concrete thinking. They benefit from participation that produces tangible outcomes. Ask for your child's opinion on issues that affect her life. Plan family activities and rituals with her suggestions in mind.

Opportunities for Self-Definition

As the beginnings of the identity development emerge, your middle school child needs lots of opportunities for positive self definition. Because his identity is developed in the context of his environment, it is a complex process that involves individual characteristics, family interactions, and peer, school and community influences.

Listen with your child's ear to the messages she is receiving. Discuss your values often and teach critical thinking about negative cultural influences. Your child's character is being formed and you are still the guiding influence in her moral and ethical development. Take advantage of this opportunity to help her develop an identity that will form a strong foundation for adolescence and adulthood.

Middle childhood begins the balancing act between self identity and family, peer, and cultural influences. Remember taking little personality quizzes in magazines when you were a teen? Your child is constantly evaluating who he is and will for many years. High expectations, clear boundaries, and unconditional love from parents help him form a healthy, balanced identity.