Middle Years Education in Manitoba: Improving Student Engagement

Common Questions

Here are some common questions parents ask about their young adolescent children:

My son is starting Middle Years school in the fall and I’m worried about how he will fit in with all the older students. He’s shy and really nervous about changing schools. Will my son be okay in the new school?

It is natural for you and your son to feel worried about him leaving Early Years school and starting a new school at a new level of learning. In Manitoba, we refer to Grades 5 to 8 as the middle grades, and this time of your child’s learning as the Middle Years.

Middle Years teachers and schools are well prepared to make your son’s experience a happy and successful one. Middle Years teachers understand young adolescents and work hard to meet the learning needs of their students. Teachers recognize how important parents are to student success, and they will keep you informed about your son’s progress. Feel free to contact your son’s teacher to discuss any concerns or to share information that can help make your son’s adjustment to the Middle Years smooth and comfortable.

For more information about shyness, IWK Health Centre - Parent Pointers: Shyness (PDF document)

My daughter is turning 11 and she is changing so much. She wants to be with her friends all the time and sometimes she gets so cranky over nothing at all. What’s happening to her?

The changes you see in your daughter are likely part of the changes that go along with young adolescence, when children are 10 to 14 years of age. Part of a young adolescent’s development is to want to become more independent and to spend more time with friends. Parents are still very important at this stage of their children’s development and can help them keep the right balance between home life, school life, social life and community life.

The mood swings you see are probably caused by hormones that become very active during adolescence. Helping your daughter get enough sleep, exercise and nutritious food will help her adjust to, and accept, the feelings and changes she’s experiencing. Talking with your daughter about her feelings and behaviour will help her feel secure and understood. As a result, she will be able to make better choices in the future.

As your daughter matures, she will get more control over her emotions and behaviour. If you have any further worries that are bigger than you and your daughter can handle, talk to your daughter’s doctor or school counsellor about your concerns and ask for their recommendations.

For more information on the changes experienced during adolescence, ManitobaParentZone - Sexual Health

Our son is in Grade 7. Lately, he has started saying he has stomach aches in the morning and doesn’t want to go to school. He cries when we tell him he has to go. Last night he told us he is being bullied at school and that’s why he wants to stay home. What should we do?

Stomach aches and crying before or after school are two signs a child may be experiencing bullying. Now that your son has told you he is being bullied at school, it is important for you to be an advocate for him. Talk to your son, his teachers, the school counsellor and, if needed, the school principal about ways to stop the bullying. Make sure a school plan is in place that satisfies your child’s need for safety and well-being. If the bullying continues, talk to the school principal and ask for other help in the school or school division.

The Manitoba government passed The Safe Schools Charter (Bill 30) in 2004, making it a law for all schools to be safe and caring places. Each school has a safety policy and a code of conduct that help protect everyone in the school.

For more information about The Safe Schools Charter, see:
Manitoba. The Safe Schools Charter. S.M. 2004, c. 24. Winnipeg, MB: Queen’s Printer—Statutory Publications, 2004.

For more information on bullying awareness and prevention:

My 13-year-old daughter says she is fat and needs to lose weight. She has put herself on a diet. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her weight. Should I be worried?

You are wise to be concerned about your daughter’s dieting and body image worries. A growing number of adolescent girls and boys are developing eating disorders and health difficulties caused by dieting and unhealthy eating.

Dieting is not a good idea for young adolescents. They are growing quickly, and their bodies and brains need a lot of nutrients to keep them energized, healthy and strong. Getting daily exercise and eating a wide variety of nutritious foods, from all the food groups identified in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, are better alternatives to dieting.

Planning and preparing meals with your daughter is a good way to start having conversations with her about healthy eating and life choices. If your daughter continues to display worrisome eating or dieting habits, consult with your family doctor. The doctor may recommend a visit to a dietitian or suggest a support group your daughter can join to help her adjust her body image perceptions and develop healthy eating habits.

For more information on dieting and health:

My 12-year-old-son wants to stay indoors and play video games all the time he is not in school. How do I get him to do other things, such as go outside and play?

Many young people are very interested in technology and become caught up in the excitement of video games, texting or surfing the Internet. Talk with your son about the need for a balanced and healthy lifestyle to develop both his body and mind during these Middle Years. Include your son in any decisions about setting time limits for using electronic devices.

Young adolescents are more likely to be physically active if they can do activities with friends or family members. Build in time during the day to take a walk or a bike ride with your son, so he sees his parent is also building physical fitness and activity into the day’s schedule.

For more information on active living:

I know my child is going through lots of changes now that puberty has begun, but how do I know what changes are normal and what changes I should be worried about?

Adolescence is a time of many changes. The only other time that a child goes through as many changes is in the first two years of life. Many of the changes adolescents experience may seem disruptive to parents, but they are likely part of the normal maturation process.

Sometimes, though, parents notice or feel that some of the changes are cause for concern. Parents should trust their instincts at these times and talk to their child, their child’s doctor or the school counsellor about their concerns. If your child needs support to help get through adolescence, these professionals can offer advice, counselling or referrals that best suit your child’s needs.

For more information on puberty, Helping Your Children to Grow Up Ok! A guide for parenting children through the changes of puberty (PDF document)

How can I approach my child about drug, tobacco and alcohol use?

It is important to establish a trusting and open relationship with your child, especially when talking about sensitive or challenging topics. Let your child know that he or she can come to you with any question or concern. It is much better that your child gets answers from you than from others, as your answers will support your family’s values and beliefs. Experimentation and risky behaviour happen much less often in adolescents who receive accurate and timely information about drug, tobacco and alcohol use. This is especially true if the information comes from supportive parents who are involved in helping their children with their questions or concerns.

Start the conversation about substance use and abuse by asking your child’s opinion about drug, tobacco and alcohol use. Use open-ended questions such as, “What do you think about young people using drugs to have fun?” or “What kinds of things have you been learning at school about drugs, tobacco or alcohol?” Keep the conversation and atmosphere relaxed and accepting. As the conversation develops, begin to talk about the dangers and the short- and long-term health concerns that come from using each substance. Share your family’s beliefs and expectations about substance use.

Even after taking the necessary precautions at home to prevent your child from using drugs, adolescents are still at a higher risk for engaging in this type of behaviour if they have friends who use drugs, tobacco and/or alcohol. Middle Years students are greatly affected by peer pressure and fear social rejection. So, help your child make friends with young people who have healthy lifestyles and whose family values are similar to your own. These friendships will go a long way in helping to keep your child healthy and happy.

If you suspect your child is already using drugs, tobacco or alcohol, contact your child’s teacher or school counsellor about your concerns. School counsellors are familiar with young adolescents’ needs and behaviours. They work with teachers and other clinical professionals to address and deal with substance use or abuse.

For more information on adolescent use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol, ManitobaParentZone.ca - Substance Use and Abuse

How can I talk to my child about puberty, sex and dating so that we both feel comfortable?

Adolescence and puberty can be a very confusing time for Middle Years students. As their bodies grow and develop, young people take on more and more characteristics of adulthood. Although their bodies develop quite quickly, children’s reasoning and judgment are slower to mature. It is important for parents to comfort and communicate with their children during these years, and help them understand that what’s happening to their bodies and emotions is normal.

Due to rising hormone levels, your child may also start becoming interested in dating. Talk with your child about what dating means and what is acceptable dating behaviour. These conversations are a good time to discuss healthy relationships and the different forms relationships can take. (Healthy lifestyle practices, such as developing healthy relationships, are also taught in school as part of the physical education/health education curriculum. In the Middle Years curriculum, students learn about the reproductive system, puberty, sexuality, gender roles, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.)

Let your child know he or she can come to you with any questions or concerns. Explain that you will do your best to answer a question or find out the answer if you don’t know it. Some parents place a question box in a safe area in the home, where the child can write questions and the parents can answer them.

Your child’s doctor or the school counsellor can give you brochures or information to help guide your conversations with your child about puberty and sex. The neighbourhood library also has books and videos that help parents in knowing what to say to their children about puberty and sex, and how to say it so the parents, and children, feel comfortable.

For more information on puberty and human sexuality education:

My child seems to be struggling with gender and sexual identity questions. What can I do to help?

Adolescence is a time when children think more deeply about gender and sexual orientation. Sometimes young adolescents become confused by what their feelings are telling them, and what they think their parents, family, friends and community are expecting of them. Adolescents who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexualtransgendertwo-spiritedtranssexualqueerquestioning or intersex may have difficulty “coming out” with their gender or sexual identity because they fear rejection and discrimination. Children benefit from conversations with parents. These conversations can help them understand and accept who they are. Parents need to support their child’s developing identity continuously, and be prepared to provide guidance during this delicate stage in life.

For more information about gender and sexual identity:


  • straight: a person who is sexually and emotionally attracted to a person of the “opposite” sex
  • gay: a person who is emotionally and sexually attracted to someone of the same sex and/or gender
  • lesbian: a female who is attracted emotionally and sexually to another female
  • bisexual: a person who is attracted emotionally and sexually to both males and females
  • transgender: a person who does not identify either fully or in part with the gender associated with their birth-assigned sex. For more information:
  • two-spirited: a term used by many North American indigenous people to refer to those who identify themselves as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer
  • transsexual: a person whose sex, assigned at birth, does not correspond with their gender identity
  • queer: a term now used as a symbol of pride and affirmation of difference and diversity
  • questioning: a term referring to a person who is unsure of their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • intersex: a term referring to a person whose chromosomal, hormonal or anatomical sex characteristics fall outside the conventional classification of male or female

* Source: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, and Manitoba Education and Early Childhood Learning. Safe and Caring Schools—A Resource for Equity and Inclusion in Manitoba Schools. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust and Manitoba Education and Early Childhood Learning, 2014.

What study skills and strategies can I suggest to my Middle Years child?

Homework, tests and quizzes are a reality for Middle Years students. Unfortunately, many students are unsure about the best way to handle homework or tests. There are many effective strategies for doing homework or studying, but the truth is, students learn and study best in different ways. Parents can help their children discover which approach works best for them by being actively involved in their learning both in and out of school. Your child’s teacher may also give you feedback on how your child learns best and may suggest study skills to try at home.

Regardless of the strategies that work best for your child, here are some key practices that make homework and study time better:

  • Choose a specific area for your child to do homework, where there are as few distractions as possible. Keep a calendar nearby for writing in due dates and events.
  • Set up a regular schedule for doing homework and studying to make sure your child completes homework on time and can avoid last-minute cramming for tests.
  • Allow for physical activity breaks. Activities such as standing up and stretching, playing with the family pet or taking a short walk outdoors, for five minutes every half hour, help keep young minds sharp and ready to learn.
  • Keep open communication with your child about what he or she is learning in school. Show genuine interest, and provide help at any sign of a struggle.
  • Make sure your child is getting the proper amount of sleep. It is recommended that adolescents get nine to 10 hours of sleep a night, to learn best.

For more tips on helping your child with study skills: