Five Helpful Ways to Make a Successful Transition to Middle School

Sep 05, 2016

Gone are the sweet goodbye hugs at the classroom door. Gone are the volunteer hours in the classroom where I could legitimately spy on my child. Gone are the long conversations with other parents at school drop off and pick up. Middle school is a big and lonely place filled with “mini-adults” I once knew as adorable.

As I think about it, my own feelings about transitioning into middle school may be similar in some ways to my child’s. Transitioning to middle is tough on both parent and child. Here are five ways to make the transition smoother.

  1. Manage the Logistics. Most often the change to middle school means a change in a physical campus with a very different routine. Middle schoolers have to suddenly navigate a large campus, manage several teachers and handle more homework.
    Obviously, parents cannot walk their kids from class to class, but planning ahead with school tours, campus maps, and visits to counselors can be helpful. If you are able to tour the campus, do so ahead of time and then put your child in charge of giving you a tour with his schedule.

    Be mindful that you and your child may feel some stress until the new routine settles in. My mental rule is “on time for a child is 15 minutes early.” Rushing in the morning puts everyone on edge.

    If I am late to meet the bus, I introduce a level of anxiety that complicates all of the other emotions that are going on for my child. It is important to demonstrate organization with time so your child can carry that habit into her school day. She needs to manage getting from class to class on time, while checking in with friends and maybe even using the bathroom ahead of time. These are real life negotiations and it is a helpful conversation to have at home. “Wow, you have to think of a lot of things in between classes. Is it hard to get to class on time? What’s your secret?”

    Learn about your child’s world, and if staying on task is difficult for her, ask her for ideas as to what she might find helpful to be on time to school, to keep an organized backpack, and to stay on top of homework.

  2. Find a Buddy. The good news is that your child is not alone in this transition. There is a whole class of kids in the same position. Find an upperclassman who has weathered this transition before. Let an older buddy give you both the “inside scoop” on campus activities, teachers, study habits, shortcuts to class and even lunch menu items to avoid! Cultivating a good group of buddies is crucial for homework support as well. In the meantime, it’s important for Moms and Dads to cultivate their own group of parent buddies, too, for friendship, logistical support – and for those “other eyes and ears” paying attention to your child.

  3. Introduce Yourself to the Teachers and Administrators. Information was more easily obtained in elementary school. If your child was struggling, you might have gotten a personal call or an email. If your child had a special need or celebration, your child’s teacher was likely involved. It’s not that middle school teachers don’t care about your child; they have five or six times as many children to care about and details can fall through the cracks. This is also the time when students need to be learning to manage more of their own school affairs. During your family’s transition, avail yourself of whatever online communication the school offers for homework, grades and activities.

    Make appointments to meet the school counselors, principal and teachers if it doesn’t happen in passing. Remember that kind notes expressing appreciation go a lot further in building a mutually supportive relationship than does a note of complaint.

  4. Balance the Good and Bad of Technology. We have all seen it—kids with their eyes glued to their cell phone jumping at every text alert-we feel as though we’re competing for their attention.
    We struggle with appropriate ways to limit screen time and to avoid negative posts and sites. However, middle school might be an important time in your child’s life to give them a cell phone (if they don’t already have one.) Review the school’s policy on cell phone usage and stick with those rules as a family.

    As your child is likely not allowed to call or text during school hours, you should not be calling or texting your child during these times either. Cell phones offer the emotional comfort for parent and student to easily get hold of one another in the event of an emergency or change of plans, well within the guidelines of the school, so talk about their proper use ahead of time.

    Evening and weekend use of technology can be helpful in terms of accessing homework, completing assignments and garnering help from classmates. Encourage the use technology in family spaces rather than in one’s room, and review your child’s usage on a regular basis. Computer safeguards and parent controls are widely available on line, and many families find them helpful. Parental control software like Net Nanny, helps parents to filter inappropriate content and set screen time limits. Parents can set up user profiles by child and either designate an allotted number of hours a day for internet access or set specific hours’ internet access is not allowed.

  5. Most of All, Listen.Your middle school child will talk to you; but middle schoolers will often want it on their own terms. One word answers, bad moods, extreme hunger, despondent affect, silly laughter, and health concerns are different ways adolescents “talk” about their day, so practice patience as much as possible. Hold off starting your after-school conversations with the inevitable, “So, how did you do on your test? How much homework do you have?”

    All that information can come forth after some decompression. In the meantime, listen. Offer to give their friends a ride and listen to them talk. Hear their ideas, goals, worries, and stressors, and you’ll hear your own child’s mixed in.

Middle school is a big transition for the whole family. Make up your mind to enjoy the ride. Before long they will be driving and then will be off to college. Your goal: Getting them to navigate those transitions and life challenges independently—you’ve got this!