Self-Sufficiency: For the Middle School Ages

Self-advocacy, responsibility, and independence are life skills that are certainly called upon once children reach middle school. No longer do they have one teacher that is responsible for knowing all of their assignments for each subject, nor do they have recess to run off their excess energy. Additionally, homework, reading assignments and lockers all make for a challenging transition from elementary school to middle school.

Middle school is also the time when teachers and parents begin to expect students to have more of a handle in their own schooling—meaning that they take on the active role, while parents help more from the sidelines. That said, middle schoolers who are underperforming or struggling socially may be experiencing the ripple effect of a lack of self-sufficiency. To combat the dependence that may not have been shed during elementary school, you can still help middle schoolers build a strong foundation for self-sufficiency.

  • “My job, your job, our job” is a common strategy that teachers use when introducing class expectations in middle school. Parents, too, can take this straight from the teacher’s playbook to use at home. Very clearly explain the expectations for completing homework each night. Families can set up these expectations together so that everyone is in agreement from the get-go.
My Job (child) Your Job (parent) Our Job (child & parent)
Write down my homework for each class before leaving the classroom Provide child with agenda book or calendar for organizing assignments Keep technology out of the homework area during work time
Organize items that must be returned to school Double check that a “bring back” folder does, in fact, return to school in the backpack Track grades online
Complete all homework assignments to the best of my ability Support homework time by removing distractions and assisting when necessary Email/contact teachers if assignments, due dates, or grades are unclear


  • Encourage middle schoolers to clean up their own messes and tackle their own problems. If your child forgets her project on the kitchen counter, pause a moment before you speed to the school to deliver the assignment. Yes, if you don’t rush to her rescue, she will have to suffer the consequences of forgetting the assignment, but the lesson that she will learn will be invaluable. She will have to talk to the teacher, negotiate an alternative option for submission, and take responsibility by accepting the late credit.
  • How will suffering the consequences do any good? Think about this like removing the training wheels. Your child may take a spill, but they’ll never learn to ride the bike if the training wheels are always on to hold her up. She will remember this moment the next time a large assignment rolls around, and will surely double check that the project is in her backpack before she heads out the door.

  • Set high expectations while also praising effort, even in the face of failure. Self-sufficiency truly blossoms when children learn to pick themselves back up. Every time that they solve a problem, fix their errors, and give it another shot, they are developing grit and self-sufficiency. The knowledge that they can strategize and attempt challenges on their own builds confidence and self-esteem—two qualities with which many middle schoolers likely struggle.