Learn tips from a teacher (and mom of twins) to prepare your twins for entering junior high school and the unique challenges that await them.
Junior high school. I don’t know many people who have extremely fond memories of this very awkward period in everyone’s life.
You’re no longer a fresh-faced elementary school student and you’re not yet an independent, college-bound high school student. You’re stuck somewhere in the middle. Literally, in middle school.
Many kids are caught in a cycle of not knowing who they want to be, not being sure how they want to be perceived, and desperately wanting others to like them and to fit in. For twins, this can be twice as difficult as they are constantly judged against each other.
I taught junior high school language arts for nearly a decade and I watched many students struggle to adjust for the majority of the time they walked the halls. Many didn’t grow into their own skin until they were almost graduating, ready to move onto their next chapters.
But, as is often the case with teaching, the students often taught me more than I taught them, and I’ve learned some tips to prepare you and your emerging pre-teens for the highs and lows that make up the junior high school roller coaster.
One of the biggest challenges junior high schoolers face is the shift from being in one student-centered classroom all day long to rotating throughout multiple rooms with different teachers and different combinations of students in each one.
Even as an adult, I often find it very hard to keep track of what I’m doing throughout the day – twin mom brain, anyone? – so imagine what a pre-teen must be feeling. Your child no longer has a dedicated desk with their name on it. Instead, they must now survive in a world of class rotations and passing periods, and their organizational technique needs to change accordingly.
Some schools provide you with an assignment notebook, but if not, it’s worth the investment to keep up with assignments, extracurricular activities, and school functions.
Let your kids get creative and personalize their calendar and supplies. This is the time to give in to your kid’s desire for a new binder or set of color-coded folders. It may sound silly, but just putting a personal touch on these items can make them feel more at ease with the dramatic changes coming their way. Plus, this is an opportunity for your twins to distinguish themselves from one another with an individual touch.
Cultivate Independence and Responsibility
Has one of your kids ever given you the “I can do it myself!” speech? Whether it’s about walking the dog or going to the mall without a chaperone, your junior high school kids are ready to be a little more independent.
Use this to your advantage! Give your kids some more responsibilities around the house – even if they’re small. Instead of asking your kids to clean up the living room “right now”, give them the opportunity to get it done by a deadline – “The living room needs to be cleaned up by Friday morning”. This will help them figure out how to manage their time. Remember, just because you’re sick the night before your book report is due doesn’t excuse you from having it finished if you’ve had an entire month to work on it.
Same goes for the living room – if they have a few days to put away the art supplies and fluff the pillows, they should be able to find the time to get it done. It’s time to be independent and focused. Junior high school is about adapting and finding solutions; if you can figure out how to fit all of the puzzle pieces together, you’ll do just fine.
Try new things and get used to disappointment
Junior high school is a time to try new things! Try to get your kids out of their comfort zone (even just a little bit) so that they can explore what really interests them.
Elementary school is directed far more at the whole group, but now’s the chance to try out for that play or join the coding club. These don’t have to be lifelong activities but encourage your children to try a few because neither you nor they know what might stick!
My parents encouraged me to join the junior high school band assuming I’d play the flute for a couple of years, make some new friends, and be done. Little did they – or I – expect that I’d play all throughout high school and even join the athletic band in college. I made some of my greatest lifelong friends through this one activity.
And, if your twins try out for the soccer team and don’t make it? It’s a learning experience – there’s always next year, or another activity! Getting used to some disappointment is a good thing. It will help your kids roll with the punches and grow stronger.
Be yourself (and be kind!)
In my years of teaching, I saw many students come and go with varying levels of “success”. The ones who went through junior high school the happiest were the ones who learned to be themselves. They embraced the good, the bad, and the awkward things that made them who they are. They focused on what made them happy and allowed others to be happy without judgment.
Don’t get me wrong – this is no easy task. The early teen years are full of uncomfortable moments, popularity contests, and a deep struggle to understand yourself and how you fit in. But, if you can impart one thing to your twins, let it be this: be nice.
You’d be surprised how quickly kindness can spread through the junior high school hallways. Don’t let them get caught up in the gossip or secret swapping. Kindness begets kindness and a quick reminder to your twins that they don’t need to please everyone can go a long way and make them much happier.
Listen to your twins
Junior high school is a challenging time for everyone – students and parents alike – but it holds some unique challenges for twins. No, being in the same grade is not a new frontier for them, but the added social pressures might be. They may or may not have been in the same class throughout elementary school, but now they’ll find themselves struggling to fit in with or without their other half.
Suddenly there are clubs, sports, and dances (on top of the everyday schoolwork) to keep track of. If one twin excels in any given area more than their counterpart, jealousy can set in. Your twins might be interested in the same activities, but even if they’re not it can be hard for them to find themselves amidst all the chaos.
Find time to let them explore their unique interests, with or without their built-in-buddy. Try to impart to them that even if one of them makes the basketball team, gets an A on that really hard test, or makes a bunch of fast friends while the other doesn’t, it doesn’t take away from their bond.
Twins can be happy FOR each other, as well as with each other. Remember what I said about being yourself and being kind? Your twins can do this individually AND together. Try to remind them that they’re the lucky ones – they get to climb this mountain with a friend unlike any other.
Ari Pickus is a stay at home mom to fifteen-month-old identical twin boys. When she’s not chasing the boys around the park or her living room, she loves to run, read, and relax with her husband, Ted, and their two cats.