Moving on up to High School
May 28, 2020
Preparing for the Differences between Middle School and High School
The transition from middle to high school is one of the most exciting and stressful times for a child. They are leaving the comfort of middle school and entering a world in which kids become adults. While your child may have participated in previous academic transitions such as the transition from elementary to middle school, there are several factors that make the transition from middle to high school more challenging.
First, the transition to high school represents an increase in academic demands and classes are more challenging in high school than they were in middle school. There are also a greater variety of classes for a student to take and navigating through these choices can be both, exciting and scary. Second, students have more responsibility for their learning and have to proactively ask for help/clarification from their teachers who may take a while to even learn their name! In high school, each student’s schedule is different and it is less likely that they will have the same team of teachers as their peers like they did in Middle School where the teachers are also more connected to each other. In high school, the 40-50 minute period of class is likely the only time that a student has access to a teacher and as such, it is important that they use the time to help them by asking questions and developing rapport. Third, beyond the academic transition, there is also a social transition as students are entering a place with an existing social structure that they have to navigate and fit into. Finally, students in this transition are also in the middle of their own transition to adolescence. This time period after puberty represents a key time in adolescent brain development and as a result of these changes the social world around the adolescent becomes more important to them. Thus, children are making a social transition at a crucial time in their development when peer acceptance is becoming incredibly important to them. Taken together, a child transitioning to high school is facing the challenge of increased academic expectations coupled with trying to find their place socially at the same time.
Tips to Support your Child During this Transition
While this transition can seem daunting, parents can help their child in many ways.
- Understand that your child is likely to be stressed as they make this transition and help them realize that the stress they are experiencing is normal.
- Help your child balance the new academic challenges they are facing. Help them think through how to plan their time-don’t plan it for them-and periodically check in with them to see how it is working. Keep dialogue ongoing to stay informed about how they are keeping up with the work load. Try not to ask only about grades but allow them to tell you about their actual experiences.
- Help your child adjust to the new social demands they are facing. As they mix in with many new students from different schools and with different experiences, they may feel a little lost and overwhelmed. Reassure them that it takes time to develop friendship. Getting involved in extracurricular activities is a great way for freshmen students to ease into the social world of the high school. It is important that the students not get, but not so over involved that it adds stress.
- Help them through any mistakes and help them regain their confidence. High school is a time for risk-taking, both academically and socially. Kids try new things and sometimes, it doesn’t go as well as they had hoped. Rather than berate your child, help him cope with the misstep, learn from it and move on.
- Acknowledge and balance your own expectations for your child. High school is going to be harder academically and a student may experience a slight slip in grades at first. If that happens, help your child problem-solve to improve. Also, just because you played soccer and were the captain of the movie club does not mean your child has to follow in your footsteps. Children want to please their parents and it is up to parents to set realistic goals, based on what a child is good at and wants to do.
- Give your child increasing levels of responsibility and independence to help them learn how to plan their time and make good choices.
- Talk, talk, talk WITH (not at) your child - growing up is hard and they should know that no matter what, you’re always in their corner.
There are supports available for you and your child if you notice any major changes in your child’s behavior or actions, including acting out at home, violence, ongoing withdrawal or aversion to being social or anything that you feel is out of the ordinary. Reach out to the school and ask who you can talk to and utilize the resources that are offered.
The best thing that parents can do during this transition is to be supportive of and listen to their child, setting a foundation for a future relationship built on trust and understanding.