The daughter of a close friend started middle school this year. Over the summer, I came to realize how nervous my friend was about this change and the various ways in which she was preparing her daughter for it.
It’s natural to be afraid of the unknown, so the easiest way to tackle fears about the transition is to find out as much as you can about the new school and its expectations for students. I spoke to a few first time middle school kids and their parents to learn from their experiences.
It’s best to recognize the differences in advance so that you can help your kids be better prepared:
In middle school, kids have different teachers for each subject, making it harder for teachers to know their students as well individually as their elementary school counterparts. Parents have less contact with teachers, and they are only called into a conference if there is an issue that requires parental involvement.
How to stay involved: Keep the communication channels open with your child, even if it looks like she doesn’t want or need you around. Instead of asking a lot of questions, be a good listener, and try to gauge your child’s mood after school.
Middle schools usually combine kids from two or more elementary schools and may be bigger than what your child is used to. Kids are afraid they will get lost or be late as they travel from one class to another. Students also switch from using cubbies to using lockers. One middle school student told me she’s constantly late to class because she has trouble with her overly full locker.
How you can help: Make sure you and your child attend all orientation sessions and open houses to become familiar with the school’s layout. Get a map of the building and go over the routes your child will take during school.
Help your child practice using a combination lock. You can also practice opening the locker with your child when you visit the school. Report any trouble with lockers to the authorities to avoid being tardy.
Teach your kids about privacy. Explain that she should not reveal her locker combination to anyone.
Help your child develop a system that works well for her. My young neighbor carries the books and folders she needs for her morning classes in her backpack and makes the switch to afternoon class materials at lunchtime. Another child likes to return to his locker after each class.
Your child may wonder how she will make friends at school without a playground. Many middle schools don’t have recess time. Also, children sometimes worry about older kids being mean or bullying them.
How to reassure your child: It helps if your child socializes with your friends’ or neighbors’ kids who are already in middle school. It allows your child to get a better idea of what other kids are wearing, reading, or playing with.
Help your child feel that it’s OK to be who she is and that she should befriend whomever she likes rather than just those who look “cool.” Trying too hard to be in with the “popular kids” often causes more harm socially. Self-confidence is not something that can be acquired overnight. This is an ongoing lesson that every child struggles with over the years. Remind your child that there are a number of after-school groups and clubs available in middle school where she can make friends with like-minded kids.
It’s also worthwhile to start a discussion about social media and privacy. For more advice, check out “How to Keep Your Pre-Teen Safe on The Internet”.
Middle school requires kids to manage their time and stay organized. If your child misses a class for any reason, it is her responsibility to ensure that she finds out what was missed and hand in the work to her teachers. Organization skills are necessary to avoid losing books, papers, and homework between classes.
How you can help: Give your child more responsibility before she enters middle school. Have her practice organizing her room, books, and papers.
Nowadays, middle school teachers put many assignments online. Talk to your child about being responsible and completing homework before browsing or chatting with friends. Encourage using the computer in a public spot where you can pass by occasionally to monitor your child’s progress.
Here are some more ways that you, the parent, can help during the transition period:
Keep things consistent at home so that your child feels like some things in her world are constant.
Remind your child that she should ask for help from you, a school counselor, or a friendly classmate when she feels lost or if someone makes her feel uncomfortable.
Reassure her that everyone who goes to middle school for the first time is nervous.
Arrange for your child to connect with friends outside of school on weekends or after school so she doesn’t feel completely friendless in those first few weeks.
Don’t worry too much about grades at first. In most cases, as kids adjust to their new environment, any inconsistencies in academic performances will level out.
A great resource that you can direct your preteen to is It’s My Life, a website funded by PBS Kids, with videos, comments from kids, and Q&A by site mentors. It addresses important topics like friends, school, and family. While the site no longer accepts new questions, it still provides many relevant submissions. Something about asked questions on Noodle.