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Smoothing your child's transition to middle school

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By Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.

Social fears

Another area of worry for students moving to middle school is the social scene. Will I see anyone I know? Will it be hard to make friends? Will I have to eat lunch alone? Are the older kids bullies?

Your child is moving from the top of the elementary school heap to the bottom rung of the middle school social ladder. She may have heard that the older students tease or bully the younger ones. She knows for sure that she and her best friends are unlikely to be in every single class together, and, even worse, there may be classes where she doesn't know anyone at all on the first day. And if your child with learning or attention problems struggles to make friends anyway, then this all adds up to a potential social nightmare.

Remember that, in addition to changing schools, your child is entering adolescence, a stage when kids start to rely much more on peers and pull away from parents. This is a time when being part of a group is very important and being perceived as different can be devastating. It's not surprising that finding friends in the new school is a top priority.

The good news is that the more varied social environment also offers many opportunities to meet people. Being in multiple classes each day means your student is surrounded by more potential friends. The better news is that, once students are settled into middle school, they report that friendships and the social scene are among the best things about school (Akos, 2002: Forgan, 2000).

Some things that you can do to ease the social transition:

  • Encourage your child to join sports teams, clubs, or other extracurricular activities.
  • Ease any loneliness in the early weeks of school by helping your child arrange weekend social activities with neighborhood, church, or grade school friends.
  • Encourage your child to join group conversations. Discuss how to join in without interrupting, to add something relevant to conversation in progress, etc.
  • Talk about traits that make a good friend (such as being a good listener).
  • Talk about social skills. Discuss how words and actions can affect other people.
  • Practice skills needed for difficult social situations.
  • Remind your child to make eye contact when speaking or listening.

Academic concerns

Though most students worry more about the logistical and social aspects of middle school before they get there, once settled in, academic concerns rise to the surface. Will the classes be too difficult? Will there be too much homework? Are the teachers hard graders?

It's quite typical for students' academic performance to drop upon entering middle school. Along with everything else that's going on - rollercoaster emotions, physical changes, and social upheaval - your child is also coping with harder classes, more homework, and a whole new set of academic expectations. Middle school teachers don't form the close bonds with students that your child enjoyed in grade school. There is less small group and personalized instruction. Teachers expect students to take charge of assignments and projects with less day-to-day guidance.

For a student with learning or attention difficulties, these changes can come as quite a shock. Teachers may vary in their willingness to understand and accommodate your child's learning needs. Organization and time management demands rise to a new level. Though it can seem overwhelming, keep reminding your child that she can manage these changes successfully, though it will take time and practice.

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