Lately I have had balance on my mind. I am thinking of the difficult balance between a parent’s desire to protect a child and the child’s normal desire to be more independent. This balance is more tricky when with an atypical child — whether due to ADD, learning disability, or Asperger Syndrome. Now add the child’s normal desire to be more independent in middle school and the significant increase in the complexity of work in middle school, and you have a situation that can become a crisis.

The challenges of sixth grade are quite significant for these children. There is always a long and complicated research project that involves learning many new skills. For children who have difficulty organizing time, materials and ideas, such projects can be overwhelming. Even the “typical” children are quite challenged.

For many children this situation triggers anxiety and poor coping strategies, such as denial, not asking for help, procrastination and “fibbing” about the work to be done. Parents may find out rather late in the game that work is missing and be shocked by poor quiz grades. Yet at this age children often bristle at the suggestion that their parents become more involved in their homework.

What is to be done? When parents and teachers can work together respectfully and get input from the students, they can often devise systems that allow enough independence to for the students’ comfort and yet don’t leave them with so little supervision that they get way behind before they know it. Some people refer to this as scaffolding. You set up an arrangement in which the student has some choices but not too many.

A good learning center teacher can go over assignments with a student before she leaves school for the day so she can be sure to have the materials she needs. Little by little she can take more responsibility for this. For instance, she might begin to write down her own assignments and pack up her own bag, but check with the teacher before leaving school.

At home some children need their parents to go over the assignments and help them to plan their time in order to get everything done. In time the student will be able to take responsibility for this. This monitoring needs to be done with patience and respect. It is important for parents to give students the benefit of the doubt when they overlook details. Children want to succeed. A blaming or “gotcha” attitude will lead to secrecy and deceit. No one likes to be made to feel ashamed.

In some families the parent child relationship becomes so frayed that parents cannot be helpful in this regard. In these situations I recommend that families who can afford it hire an organizational tutor to help teach a child the tools she needs to manage this new workload. This protects the child from the potential shame about having her parents see her mess up and allows her to grow into independence her parents will be proud of.

Giving students more responsibility little by little means that there will be times that they miss homework assignments or get low grades on quizzes. Unless this is a regular problem, these occurrences are learning opportunities for your child. It could be useful to be curious about these problems and wonder how they could be avoided, but it is not useful to blame — either the student or the teachers. Sometimes the best of students forget assignments or bomb quizzes.

Author's Bio: 

Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist, Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. (www.drcarolynstone.com) educates parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and anxiety about their children’s needs using humor and evidence-based practices. Parents learn new strategies through role play and homework. She teaches children to manage their anxiety and attention and to understand their learning styles. You can learn about Dr. Stone’s work from her blog at http://www.drcarolynstone.com/blog/.