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Understanding the Transition to Middle School

The transition from elementary school to middle school is one of the biggest leaps our children make. It is a time mixed with multiple emotions and feelings. In many ways the move from lower school to middle school is much like adolescence itself: your child is no longer a baby and yet, not yet grown up. It is a difficult in-between time.

Anxiety and fear mix with excitement and pride. Your child is launching into a new world filled with promise, expectations and the unknown. He has spent the previous five years laying the groundwork for all that will be expanded on in the next several years. He has dabbled in the understanding of behavioral expectations and slowly acquired habits that will follow him into the rest of his academic career. He has moved up the totem pole from little guy on campus to the big kid, only to face starting over again. Each aspect of this developmental milestones brings with it anticipation, good and not so good.

In some cases, your child may also leaving friends behind. Middle school means that some of his peer group may be headed in other directions. Parents often use this time to choose between public, private, or charter schools or opt to make a family move as change is already occurring and they believe this might be a good time to make permanent changes in living situations. Which ever the case, there is a period of loss involved in moving on to the upper grades. Your child may show signs of grief that are connected to loss of friendships as well as social status.

Adapting to a new, and often bigger, school can be challenging. While most elementary schools try to prepare their fifth graders with visits to the middle schools and perhaps even meeting prospective teachers, the reality of walking in to the big school for the first time can be overwhelming. Your child will need to become accustomed to changing classes and teachers and perhaps, in some cases, a different schedule everyday. Class sizes may be bigger and there be a feeling of being lost in the crowd.

The academic work itself is also more different. More pressure tends to be given to students in the middle school years as well as more homework. Helping your child from the onset to organize homework time and to be aware of what your child needs to complete and when will help you both. Be sure you include in the after school schedule a time for your child to relax, play, or just veg. With more homework assignment children can spend too much time on their subjects and not have any time to just be a kid or become so frustrated they avoid their school work all together. If your child is involved in sports, or wishes to become involved in sports a schedule will be even more important. This will enable you to ensure that work gets done, you child has fun, and most importantly they get enough rest with their busy schedule. It is important to try not over schedule you child’s time. Too much, either school related or extracurricular can lead to exhaustion and the inability to do well at either task.

Middle school is truly a test of balance for everyone. Assist your child with routines that encourage success in all aspects of their lives. Provide as much support as you can, while also recognizing that this is the beginning of a need to spread one’s wings. Little flights from the nest are necessary. Allowing and encouraging some independence is not easy for parents. As much as our children are wavering between growing up and wanting to remain safe in the arms of home, parents will also feel the tug of wanting to pull in the reigns and loosen their hold.

Communication with your child will be essential during this developmental time of transition. Listen to your child’s excitement and fears and work with them to handle difficult school situations. If major fears or worries crop up, they should be dealt with as quickly as possible. A wait and see attitude may not be advisable especially if your child is feeling bullied or picked on. It is important to remember that just because he is in middle school now, he is still new at this growing up thing!