Managing the Move to Middle School

Below is an article called Managing the Move to Middle School by Anita Gurian, Phd. Anita Gurian, Ph.D., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine.

As the end of the school year draws to a close, this might be a helpful read for both you and your parents.

Middle school means lots of changes in the lives of kids, and some worry about making the move. What do they worry about?

“I’m afraid there’s much more work and much more homework.”

“There are classes in different places, and we may not have enough time in between to get there.”

“I worry about getting my locker open.”

“I hate changing clothes for gym with other kids watching.”

“How am I going to keep the assignments from different teachers straight?”

As children progress through different grades in school they face different challenges. Educators and mental health professionals agree that there are certain critical transition points which can be particularly stressful and require special support and understanding. The move to middle school comes at a time when kids have to deal with lots of other changes.

Social changes: Almost everything about the school day changes, including the social climate. Newly entering students may be separated from their friends and may not be prepared to deal with pressures coming from older students. Peer acceptance becomes critical at this age, and they have to start over in a less-structured environment with new people. In addition, the classroom climate changes from the supportive setting of a single classroom with a single teacher to a less intimate classroom atmosphere. Students rotate through classes with a number of teachers who have different teaching styles and expectations.

Academic changes: Class work is harder, homework demands may increase, and assignments are more varied. Grading standards and procedures are different. Students need to stay organized, manage time well and function more independently, perhaps maintaining a daily or weekly planner for the first time. They have to manage daily assignments while planning for long term assignments. The exposure to diverse content means they have to integrate information from one content area to another, such as reading a book for language arts that may affect a topic in social studies.

Physical changes: In addition to the social and academic adjustments necessary during the middle school years, most kids also experience the onset of puberty, which requires adjustments in their perception and understanding of the changes in their bodies. They may become more self-conscious and sensitive, and experience intense emotions and mood swings at this time.

How parents can help

The transition to middle school may be rocky for both parents and kids, and families should be sure to continue to be involved in their children’s progress. Middle school students are not yet ready for teenage independence, and they need their parents to help them with this transition.

To help familiarize your child with the new procedures, you may want visit the school together to map out his or her classrooms, practice using the combination lock, or talk to a staff member about the rules.

Keep hands off assignments; instead, act as a guide or resource for children. Discuss possible ways to do the assignment, but don’t actually do the work.

Since there is usually less teacher-initiated contact with parents in middle school, make it a point to meet your child’s homeroom teacher or academic advisor at the beginning of the year.

Network with other parents and consider being a classroom volunteer or PTA member. Hearing that other children are having the same problems, or how someone in the past resolved a similar issue, can help put problems in perspective.

If homework keeps the child up well past the usual bedtime, despite the fact that the child is putting forth his or her best effort, discuss the issue with the teachers involved. The aim of both parents and teachers should be to prevent parent/child homework conflict and to help the child avoid feeling incompetent.

If your child experiences social, academic or homework difficulties, include the child and teacher in open discussions about the specifics of the problem and in developing solutions.