It's a time to stretch boundaries. A time to challenge authority. A time to carve out an identity, try new things and meet new people. It's middle school, and while it sounds exciting, it can be quite intimidating to both kids and parents.
Leaving the insular environment of elementary school can make even the most confident kids uneasy and nervous.
"The biggest challenge for kids at this age is how fast they are changing emotionally and physically in addition to their environment changing so drastically," says Dr. Susan Bartell, a psychologist who gives seminars to kids transitioning into middle school. "It is monumental to be going through puberty, to struggle with daily social complications and also to balance the challenges of a much more complex middle-school curriculum all at the same time."
Meeting new kids from other schools is a major part of those first few weeks, says Bartell. "The biggest fear for many students is social-how are they going to negotiate meeting and fitting in with the new kids from the feeder schools that they don't know."
Organization is another huge issue for middle-school students, who must juggle a variety of classes, a changing schedule and several locker combinations along with new friends and new activities.
"They're young and inexperienced, and there's a lot coming at them very quickly. Without basic organizational skills, middle-school students can become overwhelmed," says Susan Mulcaire, author of The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World!
While this can be a stressful period of change, many kids also welcome the opportunities that middle school provides. "There are a range of experiences that weren't available in elementary school, like sports, student government and music," says Bartell. A chance to meet new friends, try new things and become their own person is a turning point and fits perfectly with their natural desire for separation from parents, she says.
Make your child's transition to middle school as smooth as possible by following these tips to boost their self-confidence and help them juggle new responsibilities:
1 Attend orientation. Most schools offer an orientation for incoming middle school students and their parents, offering information on schedules, a tour of the school and an overview of school policies. Attending these presentations can help demystify the school and put both parents and child at ease.
2 Organize a home desk. If Junior breezed through homework in elementary school, consider yourself lucky. Middle school homework is generally much more challenging, and juggling the demands and expectations of multiple teachers is a learning experience. Set up a work desk at home for your student, post their schedule nearby and stock it with extra supplies to help them prepare for the increased workload.
3 Take a test drive. If your student is worried about taking the public bus, try it out with them before school starts. If they are concerned about their combination lock, have them practice on one at home. Working out the kinks ahead of time will help lighten their load when school starts.
4 Discuss hot topics. Sex. Drugs. Profanity. "Peer pressure dramatically changes-you must start to talk about alcohol and drugs and even sex," says Bartell, who adds that they'll hear about it by middle school even if they don't try it. Make sure you are able to have open discussions about these topics and let them know they can come to you with any questions they have-even on risqué subjects.
5 Contact with the staff. If you have any major concerns about your child's transition to middle school, get in touch with your school experts. Most middle schools have a social worker, school psychologist or guidance counselor available to discuss specific concerns, keep an extra eye on your student and help ease the transition.
6 Share your stories. Without scaring the bejeebers out of them, tell your student a few stories about your middle-school experiences. Did you meet a best friend? Join the band? Run track? Remind them that you survived and pass along some of your favorite moments.