Middle school is a big step for preteens. There are a lot more teachers, classmates, changes — it can be overwhelming for kids, and just as scary for parents. But with some purposeful planning and conversations, you can help your child lay the groundwork for a positive junior high experience. These tips can prepare your preteen for the transition, helping them learn the ropes before the first day.
The campus itself is part of pre-middle-school anxiety. In elementary school, your kid had one classroom and one teacher for most subjects. In middle school, they’re likely to have separate teachers and classrooms for each subject — and only a few minutes to get there. The best way to tackle this new maze?
1. Take a Tour
Make time before the start of the school year to walk through campus with your child. Help them get familiar with the location of the bathrooms, cafeteria, and each of their classrooms. The first stop, though — the administrative offices to ask for permission to be on the grounds (they’re usually open in the summer). This is a great time to meet to staff, as well.
Do a trial run of your child’s class schedule, walking the path between each classroom to help them get comfortable with the new routine. You can even time the treks based on the length between their class periods. It can be helpful to do this with one of your kid’s friends and their parents, especially if they have classes together, so they can help each other remember how to get where they need to go.
2. Prep the Schedule
Don’t leave it to memory. Either print your kid’s class schedule and tape it to their binder, or for more high-tech preteens, help them make it their phone background. Either way, their schedule should be easily accessible until they’ve done it enough times to know it by heart. If they don’t have a phone, make sure they have a good watch so they can get to class on time.
Encourage your child to reach out to elementary school friends to see if they have any classes in common — better yet, two in a row, so they can walk together on the first day.
3. Practice New Skills
There are a lot of new things to learn in middle school, and not just in the classroom. This may be your kid’s first experience with a locker, changing for gym class or navigating a dress code. Practice locking and unlocking a combination lock, and make sure they have a consistent reminder in place, written or texted, to bring gym clothes to school, then back home to wash.
Speaking of attire, read through the student handbook together to get familiarized with the dress code and other school rules.
Ah, the middle school social scene. It’s the stuff of TV shows, movies, and plenty of horror stories about raging hormones and embarrassing gossip — but with a little preparation, your kid will be just fine.
It’s not easy to move from a small pond to a big one, or navigate the changes that come with puberty and a brand-new environment. These tips can help your preteen know what to expect, and come prepared to make new friends.
4. Join a Group
Since they’re moving to a bigger school, your preteen might not be in the same classes as their childhood friends. Encourage them to join a sports team, club or other extracurricular activity so they have a solid base to meet new people.
Being part of a group is especially important for adolescents, who rely on their peers for a sense of belonging. Until your middle schooler settles in and starts meeting classmates, a group of other kids with a shared interest can be a great way for them to feel included.
5. Have the Conversation
Middle school is notorious for gossip and bullying, but that doesn’t have to be your child’s experience. Talk with them openly about how to stand up for themselves, how to resist peer pressure and the dangers of talking about others behind their backs. Discuss the effects of their words and actions well in advance, so they start school with the tools for a healthy social life.
If they’re nervous about making friends, practice making eye contact, listening attentively, and joining conversations without interrupting — all traits that make for a good friend.
6. Be a Resource
Remind your preteen you went through middle school, too, and had many of the same fears. If you show vulnerability, they’ll be more likely to come to you with future problems. Keep the door open, and make sure your child knows that you’ll be there, without judgment, to support them through whatever new challenges they face.
7. Talk to Teachers
In elementary school, most students had one teacher for all subjects and shared them with a small classroom population. In middle school, a student can have seven or eight different teachers to get to know — so encourage them to be proactive.
Encourage your child to introduce themselves to their teachers one-on-one, and not to be afraid of approaching them for help. It’s a great habit to get into early, as it can help students get ahead in high school and college later on. Parents should refrain, though, from being too involved in their kid’s academic life. This is the time for them to learn self-sufficiency. If they’re struggling, set up a private meeting with a teacher or school counselor.
8. Set a Routine
With school, extracurriculars and an expanding social life, things can get busy for preteens. Set up a homework and chore schedule together, so your kid can help shape — and stick to — their routine. If necessary, write out a morning and evening routine too, and tape it up on their bedroom or bathroom mirror.
9. Be Understanding
Big changes can be overwhelming for kids. If their grades aren’t what you’re used to, especially in the first few weeks or months, don’t overreact. Ask what you can do to help, and remind your child they’ll adjust to the new routine soon.