Transitioning Tweens: The Leap to Middle School
Helping your child transition to junior high school
by Amy Egan
Whether your school district transitions students from elementary to middle school in sixth grade or seventh, it can be a difficult time for kids, and parents, as well. There are the obvious adjustments like a larger school building, use of lockers, loads of new faces, unfamiliar teachers and different rules. And the entrance into middle school usually brings about new pressures to wear the right clothes, say the right things and fit in with certain groups. Many childhood experts see this as the most difficult time, socially, for most kids. I have heard it referred to as the time to “eat or be eaten.”
So what can a parent do to help alleviate the pressure their children may experience during this time of life? There is no magic bullet that will ensure your child goes from elementary school into middle school experiencing no stress. However, if handled well, many of these experiences can end up being beneficial life lessons in the long run. As a parenting coach I often recommend the following formula.
The most important tip I give to a parent with a stressed child is to listen to him/her. Truly hear what he has to say. As difficult as it may be, resist the temptation to placate him with pat answers like, “things will work out fine….just give it time.” (This is actually a great way to push your child away.) Then, rather than come up with your own answers to his problem, simply authentically hear what he has to say. Believe him and acknowledge his feelings. Then ask him what he thinks his options are. Each time he comes up with an idea, ask him how he thinks that will work for him. If he is struggling to come up with anything, offer some of your own ideas and again, check to see how he feels that might work for him. If he comes up with a plan or decides to use one of your ideas, wish him luck and let him know you will be thinking of him and pulling for him as he goes off to school.
By authentically listening to him, he feels heard. He also feels like you (at least somewhat) understand what he is experiencing. By not throwing out advice right away, he hears that you trust his judgment. Both of these tips help create a climate where your child feels safe and supported.
If your child continues to feel stressed after the first few weeks of middle school and you have taken the above advice, call their school counselor. He/she will undoubtedly have helped many students through similar circumstances in the past. If you are not comfortable going to the school counselor there are some fantastic therapists that specialize in working with the unique issues of middle and high schoolers. (A friend of mine took her seventh grade daughter to one of these therapists and the relief her daughter felt was almost immediate.)
And take heart. Most transition periods help to prepare us for life. They are just a little easier to muddle through when we have the right kind of support.