As if the raging hormones of puberty weren’t enough, another hurdle is on the horizon for your tween: middle school. He’ll be swapping the comfort of being the big kid in elementary school for the likely challenges of heftier homework assignments, moving from class to class, rotating teachers and new classmates. This transition can be exciting, but it can also be unnerving. Both children and their parents are concerned about this sea change, says Patrick Akos, PhD, coauthor of Promoting a Successful Transition to Middle School: “Kids worry about making friends and being accepted, multiple teachers who may have higher expectations, getting to classes on time, even opening locks and lockers.” Parents, he adds, worry about heightened academic and peer pressures—and adolescence.
The best thing you can do, suggests Dr. Akos, is to understand the changes this transition brings and then be responsive—not controlling. Find moments to discuss social and academic shifts and how your tween feels about them, and keep the door open if he’s not ready to talk just yet. Also discuss his interests and identify extracurricular opportunities to help him find balance. He needs your support, even as he seeks independence. “Kids are resilient,” says Dr. Akos. “When it comes to these big life transitions, most survive—and thrive.”
To help ease your tween’s new-school transition:
Face the changes. Know that young adolescents need to challenge authority and push back. But your child still needs you—maybe more than before.
Encourage organization. Help your child cope by discussing what works for him, whether it’s doing homework first thing after school or ways to arrange his locker to handle quick visits between classes.
Talk to faculty. Ask how the school prepares students for the change. Is homework minimal at first? Are there tours and/or orientations? Most middle schools understand the challenges and want to help kids cope.