By Tanni Haas, Ph.D.
There are few transitions more important than the one from elementary to middle school. Kids go from being, well, kids to becoming adolescents with all that entails. How do you prepare them for the academic and social challenges of middle school? Here’s what the experts say:
Visit the School
Going to middle school often means literally starting at a new and unfamiliar school, and that can make any kid anxious. You can help ease the transition, Alicia Trautwein, a parenting coach and author of the well-known blog, The Mom Kind, says by making it a priority to visit the school with your kids on back-to-school night. She suggests that parents let their kids explore the school on their own by having them walk around with a schedule so that they can find all their classes, look for their locker and practice their lock combination, and go outside to get a feel for the area. “By helping them get comfortable with the school hallways, classrooms, and environment,” Ms. Trautwein says, “they can be more prepared for the transition.”
Develop Organization Skills
In middle school, the day suddenly gets much more complex than what they’ve been used to in elementary school: there are many more courses, taught by different teachers, and often in classrooms on different floors of the building. This requires good organization skills. Marion Wilde of Great Schools, an education think tank, goes so far as to say that “organization is the key to middle-school success.” How can you help your kids organize themselves better? The experts at KidsHealth, a major health-news site, suggest that parents buy binders, folders, and notebooks for each class, teach their kids how to use a personal planner, and encourage them to make daily to-do lists of assignments.
… and Time-Management
An important part of organization is time-management. Ms. Wilde suggests that parents teach their kids to estimate how long each assignment will take to finish, and then help them divide up the work over the number of days allotted for each assignment to create smaller, more manageable chunks of work and a realistic schedule. Ms. Trautwein adds that parents should help their kids create a daily schedule, which includes morning and evening routines, homework and study time, extracurricular activities and time with friends, and some alone time where they can unwind and de-stress. Ms. Trautwein says that having such a schedule will teach your kids accountability: they’ll become “more accountable for their time and the things they need to get done.”
Help with Homework
Homework is much more demanding in middle than elementary school; kids are often expected to do 1-2 hours of homework every day. Experts agree that parents should encourage their kids to take ownership of their homework. Ms. Wilde suggests that parents ask lots of questions as a way of guiding their kids: “Where do you think you should begin? What do you need to do next? Can you describe how you’re going to solve this problem? What did you try that didn’t work? What did you try that did work?” Cynthia Tobias and Sue Acuna, co-authors of Middle School: The Inside Story, agree that parents should act more like consultants who ask probing questions than as authority figures ready to offer the solution: “If your child’s grades slip, ask questions to find out why it’s happening and help him think through a plan to correct the problem.”
Deal with Friends
In middle school, kids often start to develop deep and intimate friendships and, as with all relationships, these friendships sometimes go sour. How do you help your kids deal with friendship issues? Two of the best approaches are: 1) being emotionally available for your kids, and 2) helping them to brainstorm possible solutions. Michelle Icard, author Middle School Makeover and many other parenting books, says that sometimes the best approach is simply to be there for your kids ready to listen to whatever they have to say: “Your reassuring presence in their lives might just be enough.” Ms. Tobias and Ms. Acuna add that parents should let their kids know that they’ll always be there for them: “At this age, what they want from you is what you want from a friend or a spouse: to be listened to, understood and taken seriously.”
If the issue is more serious and/or your kids are clearly troubled by it, try to help them come up with possible solutions. Just as with homework, however, don’t try to solve their issues but instead help them come up with solutions. “Running into friendship trouble can make tweens feel helpless,” Ms. Icard says, “but coming up with personal solutions is a great way to restore feelings of capability and confidence.”
About the Author:
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences & Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.