Helping Your Child Transition From Middle School to High School

December 9, 2019



Parents can be a child's biggest cheerleader, even as they transition from middle school to high school.

You remember the day your child started kindergarten, and probably wonder how can it be that they are already on their way to high school. Throughout your child’s education, you have been their biggest supporter, encouraging and guiding them to the next stage, and now, ready or not, it’s time to help your child transition from middle school to high school.

High school is a big step, and your child seems almost grown. So how can you help your child move up to high school, and meet the rigors of secondary education? Begin by knowing that while your child may not act like they need your help, they actually do, says Sherita Smith, mom of four kids and executive director of Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation in Detroit.

“Teens can be off-putting with their moods. They don’t always welcome conversation or attention, but they still need you,” Smith says. Give them space, but don’t completely pull away, especially when they are going through a rough time, she says.

“We have 18 solid years with our young humans. They need our love and support and encouragement and guidance, not just our provision, but our time. They need our best effort to support and help them have a successful life,” Smith says.

Research your school options

For a successful high school experience, start with the right school. With so many choices, it makes sense to use all your resources, says Smith, who adds that the Detroit Promise would have influenced her school choice, had it been in place when her older children were attending high school. “You have more options in the city, and you have to do your homework,” she says. “The Detroit Parents’ Guide to Schools is part of that. It’s a helpful resource guide.”

Whether you are researching a Detroit Public Schools Community District school or a public charter school, make sure the fit is right, says Maria Montoya, mom of seven and manager of School and Community Partnerships at Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office. Sometimes parents attended a particular Detroit high school and are excited for their kids to follow in their footsteps, only to find out the environment just isn’t right for their child.

“Look around and test the fit before the transition. See the school during a real day, not just what you remember from 20 years ago,” Montoya says. “Schools change, leadership changes. Does your child have an interest in what is offered there?”

Consider academics as well as artistic and creative opportunities well before the first day of school, Montoya says. “If your child has a particular interest, check out your options and find out what is the best match.”

Encourage positive relationships

High school is your child’s place to explore future careers and learn about what type of postsecondary education will get them to their life as a teacher, engineer, artist, doctor, computer programmer, or electrician. Often, this motivation comes from role models who are not a child’s parents. Instead of stressing about not being a primary messenger about future careers, encourage early opportunities for other messengers to step in, Montoya says.

“The most effective picture of the future will come from coaches, mentors, and other kids your student might look up to,” Montoya says. “Make sure there is an opportunity for that. It may be at camp, or a first job in the food industry.”

Sports, camps, even volunteer work gave Smith’s children broad perspectives on the world, she says. “Help your kids identify their interests. One of our kids loved architecture, so we found a camp where he could meet amazing people of color who are architects, and now he has a support system that he can reach out to for questions about college.”

Create affirming routines

By now, you know what happens if your child doesn’t get enough sleep or skips breakfast. Pay attention to your child’s needs, and positive routines will naturally emerge, but absolutely prioritize showing up every day, Montoya suggests.

“From day to day, it’s great to have routines, and for parents to encourage showing up on time,” she says. “It’s tough in the middle of February to make that trek to school with snow and traffic and accidents. Show your child that despite how hard it is to get there, there is a need to be present. Mental health days are important, too, so have conversations about that. It’s about knowing what your kid needs or doesn’t need. No one prescription is right for every child.”

While some kids can manage to get enough sleep no matter what, others sacrifice rest for distractions, says Smith, who found that everyone in her home got better sleep when smartphones charged overnight in a common area of the house, rather than next to each child’s bed.

Finally, stay involved

Every school has support systems in place to encourage kids to do their best and help them be successful every day. Find out early what your child’s school offers and make sure you child knows how to ask for help.

“Know what is available and activate that even before it’s needed,” Montoya says. “Have your child check in with someone who isn’t you. Parents worry about what another adult might tell a child, but they will offer a perspective on your role, and about how being a parent isn’t easy. Good mentors are supportive of children and helping them get through transitions, but they are also supportive of parents.”