Transitioning to Middle School

My first day of middle school stands out clearly in my mind. My family had just moved from the city to a farm, and I didn't know anyone. I scanned the gymnasium full of tweens sporting blue jeans, plaid shirts and brown-sack lunches, and I suddenly felt awkward standing there in my Raggedy Ann jumper and holding my bright orange lunch box. If the most important rule of middle school is "don't stick out," then my middle-school days had obviously gotten off to a bad start.

New challenges

A child's promotion into middle school often precipitates a season fraught with fear. Kids may worry about getting lost in a bigger building, sitting alone in the cafeteria, not finding friends or carrying a heavier academic load.

In addition, this new season requires children to become more independent and responsible. For the first time, students must juggle separate classes and assignments and deal with a variety of teachers who have diverse teaching styles. These changes can seem overwhelming.

Parents often wonder how to equip their tweens to make a successful transition into middle school. Empathetic encouragement is essential. Don't downplay your child's fears or shrug off her concerns; on the other hand, there's no need to share all of your middle-school horror stories, either. Be honest but encouraging with your child about the changes ahead.

Game plan

You may find some of these strategies helpful as your tween moves into middle school:

  • Before classes begin, tour the building with your child. Help him find his classrooms and locker, and give him time to open the lock if it is built into the locker. This will help alleviate the fear of becoming lost or not being able to get into the locker.

  • Teach your child organizational skills. Help her set up an after-school routine and study environment that will make it easier to keep up with homework assignments.

  • Create a strategy for the lunch hour. The middle-school social scene can be very cliquish — and the lunchroom especially so. To help your tween avoid the painful experience of eating alone, encourage him to make plans in advance by asking a friend to sit with him. Better yet, urge your child to introduce himself to another student and initiate a lunchtime conversation.

  • Oversee a healthy diet and the additional rest needed to strengthen the growing body and mind. A tween is better able to deal with stress and change when she's healthy and well-rested.

  • Encourage your child to get involved in extracurricular activities, which can defuse stress, build self-confidence and help him make new friends.

  • Be open to tween fashions that may ease your child's fear of sticking out in school. You may think the latest fad looks sloppy or silly, but as long as your child's clothes are not immodest, there's nothing wrong with outfits that help her feel more confident. Save your battles for something bigger than blue jeans.

Wise investment

In the Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide, Dr. James Dobson writes, "We, as adults, must never forget the pain of trying to grow up and of the competitive world in which many adolescents live today. Taking a moment to listen, to care and to direct such a youngster may be the best investment of a lifetime."

Change doesn't have to be overwhelming, and the transition into middle school can be a great opportunity for parents to invest in their tween. Enjoy the adventure as together you face the world that lies between childhood and the teen years.

This article first appeared in the August/September 2009 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2009 Pam Woody. All rights reserved.