Tips to Help Your Child Transition to Middle School
December 16, 2019
Expert advice on how parents can help their child transition to middle school with confidence.
Your child has successfully completed elementary school and is ready to move up to middle school. Congratulations! This is a big step. And, for some students, the transition to middle school is their first significant school change since starting kindergarten or pre-K.
Every child is different, and every child will face the challenge of middle school in their own way. As a parent, how can you help your new middle school student make a smooth transition to the middle school years?
Before each middle school grade even starts, consider registering your child in a summer program right at the school, suggests Maria Montoya, manager of School and Community Partnerships with Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office, and mom of seven kids. She says summer programs give kids the opportunity to meet new friends in a lower-key environment.
“It’s not elementary school anymore, so if you can separate out the social challenges by having a child participate in a camp experience, this is where many students will transition well to middle school,” she says.
Getting acclimated to a new setting
Whether your child will start middle school in a new building, or just in a separate wing or floor of their current K-8 school, you can help them become familiar with their new surroundings by touring the space or reviewing a map together, Montoya says. Sharing this information with your child will help them know what to expect on the first day.
“If the school has a formal process, or if it’s something you have to build out yourself, practice with your child what the day will look like,” Montoya says. Give your child a sense of what to expect throughout the day, from routines to classroom dynamics. “Some families don’t think about it as their kids get older, but not only will they be switching classes, but the class sizes get bigger, too.” New class choices and electives may be a surprise to your student who is accustomed to the elementary school routine.
While it’s tempting to see your middle schooler as a young adult who is ready to complete homework and meet deadlines independently, recognize that your child may still need help organizing themselves as they enter middle school, says Sherita Smith, executive director of the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, and mom of four kids.
“You know your child best. Some never need help with anything, while others need reminders to brush their teeth,” Smith says. “For those that need that extra bit of help, require them to have a planner, or use their smartphone calendar and reminders, even if they don’t want to.”
Being realistic about your child’s strengths and weaknesses will help you encourage them to build routines and organization skills for academic success, now and in the future. But don’t be surprised if your child resists your help. Gaining independence is part of growing up, and trust is best earned through consistent demonstration, Smith says.
“With my kids, I’m a show-me kind of person,” she says. “It’s important to pull back and not do for your children what they can do for themselves, but it starts with knowing what they can do. I want you to be successful, and I’m putting into place what will help you to do that.”
Staying up-to-date on your child’s life
Staying involved and invested in what is happening at school is still critical for the middle school years, Smith says. In addition to attending curriculum nights, PTA meetings, parent-teacher conferences, and getting to know your child’s teachers, carve out time to spend talking with your child about school, and whatever else is on their mind.
“Dinner table conversations are important,” Smith says. “You may not read to your child as much in middle school, but you might have devoted time where you take turns reading together, or you might have a book that you read together.”
One important talk to have with your middle schooler is something Smith calls “the friend conversation.” In fact, Smith and Montoya both agree that parents should keep a close eye on their middle school student’s social group.
“Who and what are they interacting with? What is their social media like? Who are they hanging out with after school? Who are they getting into cars with?” Montoya asks. Pay attention to the messages your child is getting from friend groups or other adults, and make your own determination about how appropriate these influences are.
Academics, extracurricular activities and sports are important, but the parent who is hyper-focused on achievement may miss strengthening a critical bond with their child during the middle school years, Montoya says. “Your child could pull away and choose not to have conversations with you about the tougher things,” she says, adding that kids at this age may turn to friends instead.
“Think about your adult life; who are you most open with? Not those who are constantly pressuring you and making you feel that you have to achieve,” Montoya says. “People can burn kids out when we try to live our lives through them.”