The beginning of a new school year marks a major transition in the life of every child. Between stressful educational, social, and personal changes, the first two months at middle school can be especially challenging. How can parents best help their children navigate the often bumpy transition to middle school? JSSA social workers offer these five tips:
Talk openly with your child
Each child handles transitions differently, so it’s important to discuss the situation to gauge specific concerns. Tweens may be concerned about having a teacher with a bad reputation, getting more homework, or mixing with new kids they don’t know from elementary school. The more aware you are of your child’s feelings, the better. Recognize that a child’s feelings may result in some hyperactivity, distractibility, agitation, or a change in behavior.
Acknowledge higher expectations at school
From an educational standpoint, middle school is usually a major shift – a larger school building; many teachers instead of just one; switching classes independently; higher expectations for managing time, materials and work; and an increase in the number of unfamiliar faces in the classroom. Help your child adapt by providing the structure at home that all children crave, even if he or she seems to fight it. Implement consistent rules about bedtime, homework, and computer or other privileges to keep the child grounded when the school routine is new and different.
Expect budding adolescent attitudes
Tweens are growing into adolescence. During this period of development, they push to become more independent, which may lead to arguments or defiance. Their peer group also becomes more important in middle school. Parents need to communicate their expectations to their child clearly and reinforce them with reasonable decisions and consequences.
Remember the intense wish to fit in
Tweens feel pressure to fit in socially. Often they dress alike or wear the same hairstyles as a way to be accepted in groups. However, it is also important at this age for children to start getting comfortable being themselves. During middle school, parents can encourage their child to choose from the wider array of extracurricular activities. Meeting students with common interests may make it easier for your child to make friends who accept others for who they are.
Narrow the parent-child generation gap
The social development and pressures on tweens are much more complex than they were a generation ago. Children today feel increased pressure earlier on to excel. They have more opportunities and options than their parents did. They also have access to technologies that can continuously engage them almost anywhere they go. Fortunately, parents have ways to learn about these differences – reading books and online articles about this age group, following their children’s assignments with online systems from schools, attending parenting programs, doing some of their own social networking, and participating in school listservs. Armed with more knowledge, parents will be better equipped to make appropriate rules that best fit their child’s life.