You marvel at your child’s mental, physical and emotional development every step of the way. But the transition period between elementary and middle school is one of the most profound times of change your child has experienced since they were two years old. In her planes of development, Dr. Maria Montessori marked the shift from childhood to adolescence around age 12 as the time where children start to develop social policy and independence. 

If you’ve lived with a preteen, you can immediately relate to some of the tumultuous behavior that comes along with the development of social independence. But this time, while it contains its own unique challenges, represents a metamorphosis of the mind and spirit and gives guardians a glimpse into the adult your child is becoming. To support the swings that come with this transition caregivers can do the following: 

Sponsor self-discovery

When you were in middle school, you may have spent time locked in your room with your favorite records trying to figure out who you were. While vinyl has become a thing of the past, your child is going through the same process. This plane of development is marked with questions about self, namely “who am I”? While their journey through personal discovery is just beginning, you can help them by sponsoring activities that promote self-exploration. As a guardian, recognize activities, areas of study or interests that cause the child to “light up.” Whether that’s spending time in the kitchen baking, visiting presentations at the planetarium, honing their craft on the sports field or reading to your younger children, encourage them to further explore these interests. This engagement in their activities and interests will not only allow them to better learn about themselves, but it will also demonstrate that you are invested in the person they are becoming. 

Promote personal responsibility

This transition from child to teenager is marked with physical, intellectual and emotional growth. Your child is experiencing change in waves even if they don’t verbalize it. Part of that change is an increased sense of personal responsibility and a desire for autonomous respect. As a guardian, it’s important at this time to carefully relinquish some of your responsibilities to your child, allowing them to take ownership of decisions and practices that contribute to their daily lives. Respect is enormously important – allowing them to maintain a space that is their own is a good start. You can also encourage them to set healthy routines, manage their schedule within reason and contribute to family decisions. 

Maintain a nurturing spirit

While much of this transition focuses on a shift from caregiver to supporter, there is still a need to provide a nurturing environment at home. Puberty can be emotionally volatile for adolescents, and sometimes the increased sense of responsibility and the burdens that come with self-discovery can be overwhelming. Like we mentioned before, fostering both of these skills within reason demonstrates your interest in their development and that you respect their increasing boundaries. But they will still need caring attention, a shoulder to cry on and encouragement to tell them that they are exactly where they need to be.