The Lower School Years
Mrs. Calvert, Cannon's lower school counselor, recently celebrated her twenty forth-year anniversary at Cannon. She advises, “Emotional health takes practice, and I preach that all the time. Parents and children don’t come with manuals, and sometimes we need to be taught strategies to pursue and practice emotional health, which is just as important as academic success. And, each stage of development has its own joys as well as challenges.”
The Lower School years are ones of rapid growth and development. Each new birthday brings tremendous change. Typical challenges and characterics of children between the ages of five and eight are described below.
The Middle School Years
Mrs. Thompson, who has served as Cannon’s middle school counselor for ten years, explained, “My job is to keep a pulse on the student body. Don’t be afraid to open up. We’re not going to judge.”
Middle school can be one of the most challenging times in your children’s lives as this period is filled with so many different and overwhelming changes that they need to learn to navigate. Not only are middle school children entering into puberty, where they are faced with changing bodies and fluctuating hormones, but they are also entering into a stage where they are very self-conscious, feeling as though everyone is looking at them. On top of these changes, many adolescents are fiercely trying to assert their independence from mom and dad, all while trying to fit in and not be different from their peers.
One of the major developmental milestones for adolescent students is the push for more independence and autonomy. As teens begin to find ways to assert their independence, parents and children may begin to butt heads. It is important to know that it is normal for children to find ways to “be their own person,” and they need to learn from their experiences—and often times mistakes. Without experiencing mistakes, children will not learn how to best handle situations, how to make positive choices, and how to move forward in the most productive way possible.
As parents, the most important thing we can do during adolescence is to love our children unconditionally and continue to support them. By continuing to be their parents, not their friends, and providing safe limits while allowing them to assert their independence (much like I am experiencing now with my two-year-old!), your children will know that they can come to you when they really need you. By listening without judgment and offering advice when asked, you can help your children navigate the ups and downs of Middle School.
The Upper School Years
Mrs. Hoffman has served as the upper school counselor for ten years. When considering how to best support your children’s emotional and social growth, she advises, the essential parenting question is, “When am I doing too much for them, and when am I not doing enough?” We want our children to know they have our unconditional love (we can love them without loving their behavior!), and we want to honor who our children are and our relationships with them. Understanding them is a good place to start.
One of her favorite books on understanding adolescents is 7 Things Your Teenager Won’t Tell You: And How to Talk About Them Anyway. The authors advise having three general rules: Stay Safe, Stay in Touch, and Show Respect (to yourself and others). Discussing rules with teens ahead of time and allowing them to help determine consequences aids them in understanding family expectations and opens the lines of communication. With developments in understanding the brain, we now know that the frontal cortex, or decision-making part, does not fully develop until around ages 21 to 24. This can explain teens’ impulsiveness and help us understand their inability to look at long-term consequences and their tendency towards risky behavior.
Developmentally for adolescents, taking risks gives them power. Allow them to have power in choices and take safe “risks” like going out for a new sport, auditioning for a play, or trying the latest fashion fad. If they take more serious risks like driving without a license or drinking at a friend’s house, try not to underreact or overreact. Many parents have found that immediate, short-term natural consequences are the most effective and least damaging to their relationships with their children. It’s not about trying to control them; it’s about helping them understand that choices have consequences.
For upper school children, “Trust but Verify” is important to remember. You want to trust that when they say their friend’s parents will be home, that they will be. But trusting without verifying could lead your children into precarious social situations (like an unexpected house party). So you follow up with the friend’s parents even if your children swear they will die of embarrassment. Being known as firm, or even strict, can offer your teens an easy out with their peers. Research affirms again and again that the number one reason most teens don’t engage in risky behaviors is, “because my parents would disapprove.” Although teens want to fit in with their peers, they still care more about pleasing their parents than their friends.