- What can I expect during this transition?
- How can I support my child through this transition?
- What can I do prior to middle school to help prepare both of us?
Before your child begins the transition from elementary school to middle school, it is a good idea to start the conversation about what to expect and discuss any anxieties your child has about this change. It is likely that they will be both excited and nervous about leaving elementary school. They may be thrilled about the idea of meeting new people, having a new schedule and going to a school where there are more activities to get involved with. At the same time, there might be fears around the size of the school, schedule changes and social pressure that come with being a middle school student.
Why it Matters
Entering middle school is a big step towards becoming a more mature, independent and responsible individual. You may already be seeing this happen at the end of their elementary school years. Perhaps they are spending more time with friends, want to be alone, have their own interests and are exploring other parts of their identity. This transition is considered one of the most transformative second to the growth people experience between infancy to three years old. If you can remember how much your child changed during that short period of time, that is what they will go through now.
Because children are becoming more independent, it is also important for parents to promote more “self-advocacy” during this time. This includes, speaking up when they need help, sticking up for themselves in conflict, and identifying and asking for what they need. This also means that parents should let their children struggle a bit and not always step in when they are struggling.. When parents can support,but allow them to deal with challenging times on their own, they are helping them build self confidence and the ability to know they can handle things on their own. These are critical skills they need in order to become responsible and confident young adults. In addition to that, parents can encourage children at this age to take responsible risks, like trying a new sport or signing up for a class they are interested in. When parents do this and then praise them for trying something new, they are developing their self-esteem and helping them to become more open-minded. All of this can begin prior to a child starting middle school
Below are some things you can do before your child starts middle school that may help to alleviate some anxieties they have and to help them visualize this next step. Some of them can also help move them towards independence and self-responsibility. Take a look at the checklist below and think about the ones you would like to do.
- Navigate through the school’s website to familiarize yourself with the teachers, staff, calendar and events.
- Take your child on a tour of the school. Consider taking your child’s friend so that they can get excited together.
- Get their schedule and map out where their classes will be.
- Practice opening and closing the locker so that they can do it with ease once they are in school.
- Set up an “at home” learning space so that your child has a quiet and predictable place to get homework done.
- Find out if there is a summer program for incoming students.
- Spend some time over the summer keeping up with reading, writing and math skills.
- Check in about your child’s study skills and help them with this over the summer
- Establish a routine for the new school year and make sure there is a balance so that students do not get overwhelmed.
- Sign up for a new class or sport over the summer.
- Look at the school’s sport and activities. Have your child think about which ones they may be interested in playing or doing.
Connect & Communicate:
Connecting and communicating with your child about middle school beforehand will help you understand how they are feeling. This will help you design strategies or seek support in order to help them. It is always a good idea to collaborate with them on strategies and not simply tell them what to do. This helps them feel ownership over their ideas and also strengthens their problem-solving skills. The list below shows some topics you may want to bring up with your child before they begin this transition.
- Discuss what they are excited and nervous about. Find ways to talk about strategies for calming their anxieties.
- Talk about social skills and meeting new people.
- Connect them to current middle school students who you trust to answer some questions.
- Discuss ways that they will stay organized with different classes, teachers and expectations.
- Talk about advocating for themselves and getting help when they need it.
- Initiate conversations about peer pressure and how to handle it when it happens.
Your child may start to pull away and it might seem like they do not want to talk or connect. Remember that this is one of the most important periods of life for them and they will need you more than ever. Try not to take their body language or lack of interest personally. While they may seem distant, they are likely truly wanting connection.
Contact & Collaborate:
In many ways, your child’s transition from elementary school to middle school is a change for you too. There will be new policies and procedures to get used to and as your child meets new friends, you will also be meeting new parents and caregivers. Below is a list of ways you can contact and collaborate with both the school and the new families that you meet.
- Get a copy of the handbook ahead of time and review it before the school year starts.
- Familiarize yourself with the teachers and staff through the website.
- Meet with your child’s teacher early in the school year to share strengths and challenges.
- Plan to go to Back to School nights, conferences and other parent-related activities to find out about the school and meet teachers and staff.
- Get to know other parents.
- Be proactive with teachers by letting them know any important information about your child.
There are many articles, books and podcasts that can help parents and caregivers prepare themselves and their children for middle school. Below are just a few to get you started.
Middle School: What Every Parent Needs to Know (PTA podcast) https://www.pta.org/the-center-for-family-engagement/podcast/notes-from-the-backpack/middle-school-what-every-parent-should-know
Middle School Matters (On Boys Podcast): https://www.on-boys-podcast.com/middle-school-matters-with-phyllis-fagell/
Getting Ready for Middle School (article)
Getting Ready for Middle School (youtube): Great videos of middle schoolers talking about their experiences. These are good to watch with your child and discuss the topics.
Part 1: Fears and Faves https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1feLS0l4Yw
Part 2: The School Day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnA-IdqTh14
Part 3: Friends and Activities https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LIHO1-rfU4
Making the Transition to Middle School: How Mentoring Can Help (article) https://educationnorthwest.org/sites/default/files/making-the-transition-to-middle-school.pdf
Parenting Involvement with Middle School: The Transition to Middle School (article) https://yourteenmag.com/teenager-school/teenager-middle-school/transition-to-middle-school
Top Ten Tips for the Transition to Middle School (website) https://www.williamjames.edu/centers-and-services/forensic-and-clinical-services/yfps/tips-for-parents/top-ten-tips-middle-school.html