Tips for Moving to Middle School

Parenting is a tricky thing. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out, everything’s upended. If beginning kindergarten can seem like an adjustment, transitioning to middle school can seem like a seismic shift. For parents and kids alike, change can be stressful. Fortunately there are some things you can do to make this often-tumultuous time more bearable for everyone.

Accept that middle school is an adjustment

In general, middle schools are larger, both as a facility and in the number of students, than elementary schools. Your child goes from the top of the 5th grade heap back down to the bottom of an even bigger pile.

Day-to-day school life is different. Now there may be multiple teachers, increased travel between classes, more academic responsibility, and even an “impersonal” feel. On the positive side, middle school is like a launching pad – kids begin to have more agency and learn how to make decisions for themselves, and also see the consequences of those decisions.

Anxiety and social fears

Students headed to middle school often have concerns – everything from finding the classroom to finding a friend at lunch. It’s a time when kids start to pull away from their parents and start to rely more on their peers. Being a part of the group, fitting in, becomes much more important than it was when they were younger. Add to all of this an increased academic load, and anxiety can skyrocket.

As parents, there are some things you can do to help alleviate your child’s stress. Help your child with time management and organizational skills. Although they’re expected to shoulder more of the responsibility for their own work now, they may still need your help figuring out how to balance it all. Teach your child to be his or her own advocate, encouraging them to discuss problems with their teachers on their own, but be ready to step in, if necessary. Don’t overreact to grades. Instead, help your child get a handle on the demands of the new school.

To help ease the social transition, encourage your child to join a sports team or a club. Talk with your child about traits that make a good friend and talk about social skills – how your words and actions can affect others. If weekends are lonely at first, encourage your child to schedule weekend activities with friends from the neighborhood or grade school.

Keep the lines of communication open. This is a time when both boys and girls become more socially aggressive as they jostle for a place among the social hierarchy. Even if you’re child isn’t on the giving or receiving end, bullying, teasing and exclusion become more prevalent at this age, whether in real life, or in the digital world. Encourage your children to talk to you about what they might be experiencing or what they are witnessing.

Middle School is an adjustment for parents, too

Just as a child may be overwhelmed going from an intimate grade-school setting to what can seem like the Wild West of middle school, parents, too, can be caught off guard by the changes. Multiple teachers can mean that no one teacher knows your child as well as his or her grade-school teacher did. Middle-school teachers may seem less responsive and harder to reach because they’re responsible for many more students. Remember, this doesn’t mean the teachers are unapproachable, it just means they have more obligations on their time.

Parents may feel their own peer pressure to parent “like everyone else.” However, the popular thing may not be the right decision for your family. Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to think independently for your child and your values. Create your own “village” of parents for support and camaraderie.

Understand that it’s normal for your child to change, and that some of these changes may be challenging. Middle school is a time to grow more independent and this can mean complaints, arguments, delays and disobedience. Testing limits is often a daily activity. Try to respond calmly to your child’s challenges. While middle school kids still need guidance and protection from parents (they even want it), they also need opportunities to make their own decisions and handle their own conflicts as they grow in independence.

As your child begins to pull away from you and turn to friends for support and advice, it’s tempting to take a more hands-off approach to your parenting. While your relationship is definitely evolving, you are still a necessary presence and voice in your child’s life. They continue to need your mentoring, your guidance and, most of all, your love, to smooth the path.

JulieJulie Wenger Watson is a freelance writer who’s worked in all aspects of music promotion. She’s also Co-Director of “Live From Cain’s,” a public radio show pilot.

Categories: Education: Elementary