The transition from elementary to middle school can be tough. And for good reason. In elementary school, your child spent most of the day in one classroom with one teacher. In middle school, your 11-year-old may have to juggle up to 10 different teachers, subjects, and classrooms. Then there’s the stress of peer relationships in middle school—new friends, mean friends, popularity, crushes, and more—and, overlaying it all, puberty. No wonder these years can be so challenging.
We asked experts for their top middle school transition tips for parents.
Middle School Transition: Our 3 Most Helpful Parenting Tips
1. Give them space.
Your young student may have arrived home ready for hugs, a snack, and a chat about her day. As you know, that’s not the after-school routine for the typical middle schooler.
“The tweens I work with report that their parents are all over their case, all the time,” explains Dr. Jerry Weichman, a clinical psychologist at Hoag Hospital’s Neurosciences Institute in Newport Beach, California. “Meanwhile, parents feel they are fighting just to keep communication open and an eye on their kid’s world. You can fight the one-word utterance. Just give your kid a little space while they transition from their school day to their home life. Don’t pester them with questions the moment your kid walks through the door. Typically, an hour to themselves is enough time to decompress. And your tween will be more available to talk about the day’s events.”
2. Get busy.
During the middle school transition, you may find your adolescent is not so interested in hanging out with you as often (or ever). That’s completely normal for the middle school years. But it can be a crushing development for some parents. If that’s you, it’s time to diversify your own experience, says author Michelle Icard who blogs at MichelleintheMiddle.com.
“Once your kid goes to middle school, find something—other than them—to enjoy. Explore new interests. Take a class. Join a club. (By the way, the advice is the same for you and your kids.) It’s great for your kids to see you taking risks. It also takes the pressure off them. They shouldn’t feel that your happiness rests on their success. Everyone will be happier and more successful.”
3. Let them own it.
Emotional drama. Missed assignments. Bad grades. Leaving most everything at home. The transition to middle school can be a roller coaster. But it’s important for parents to let their middle schoolers own their successes and their failures, says Deborah Paris, LISW, an adolescent and family therapist in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
“It’s helpful to recognize that the bumps, vicissitudes, successes, and failures are theirs, not yours. It’s hard not to take on their anxiety, angst, hurts or anger when things don’t go well. And things won’t always go well. But, growth and security and self-esteem come from their learning how to negotiate things for themselves. So, we help them learn how to do that, but we don’t do it for them.”