Helping Your Child Through the Middle School Transition

When you dropped your child off to preschool for the first time, you and your little one probably had tears, anxiety, and a bit of resistance. Although the drop-offs get easier over time as they get older, transitioning to the next school level doesn’t.

Transitioning your child to elementary school has a lot of the same sentiments as starting preschool. Your kiddo is meeting a new teacher in a new school, with a room full of mostly new friends. The great thing about elementary school is that kids are still so resilient at this age, and they are in a cocoon of teachers and staff that keep kids under their wing. Then, there’s the middle school transition.

As a mom of a high schooler, middle schooler, elementary kiddo, and a toddler still at home, the middle school transition has been the toughest so far.

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Middle school is a whole new world, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Take advantage of orientation day.

Our middle school and high school offer a registration day where the kids get a copy of their schedule, as well as their locker assignment and combination. Incoming 6th graders (middle school) and 9th graders (high school) usually have a separate orientation in addition to registration day or back to school night. This gives your child the opportunity to venture through the school, locate classrooms, and practice opening their locker without being stressed for time.Doing this really helped my kids during the first days of middle school and high school. The first day of school is scary, but I always told my kids that everyone is in the same boat that day. Everyone else is unsure of where they’re going too, and the teachers understand! After they get the hang of it, their schedule becomes second nature.

Extracurricular activities are a good thing.

We challenged each of our older kids to choose at least one school-sponsored sport they could commit to, and it’s been a great experience for them. Additionally, our middle school offers a huge variety of non-sport clubs (cooking, science, writing, robotics, etc.), so we knew they had other options outside of their sports seasons.

Not only do they learn additional skills, but it gives them more chances to socially interact with other students and teachers outside of a class and helps them make new friends. I think this helped our older kids adapt and ease into their new routines.

Help your child organize.

Instead of having one teacher and a few teachers for specials as they did in elementary, your child will have multiple classes with different teachers. Each of those teachers will likely see almost 100 kids per day, so there’s no one there to help keep them keep their school work organized. They don’t have the cocoon as they did in elementary school.

Though many schools will have a supply checklist and suggest kids have a separate folder and notebook for each class, some kids work better with a folio system or even a “trapper keeper” style of sorts to organize their work. We started out with the school’s guidelines and then adapted as needed to fit the needs of my kids’ organizational strengths.

Locker organization is big too. If they can’t find something in their locker, they could be continually late for a class. Or, they might lose a valuable assignment. Be sure your child communicates any organizational needs to you right away. I purchased a small, simple metal shelf for one of my kids to keep at the bottom of his locker because he struggled with organizing. This helped him keep some of his books organized so they were easily accessible.

Homework is a priority.

We’ve had a longstanding rule in our home that all homework must be done before any video games or screen time privileges are allowed. Middle school transition is no exception to this rule. Once we realized how much more was expected of our kids in middle school, I was glad we implemented this early on. If it’s not something you do in your house, I strongly recommend doing this when they start middle school.

Give them a quiet space to do their work. Some kids work better with music, but for others, it could be a distraction. Either way, the homework needs to be done so help guide your kids towards establishing habits that will help them succeed.

Teach your child to be his or her own advocate.

I think this one was hardest for me. When my oldest started middle school, I realized that I shouldn’t just email the teacher when I had a question about an assignment, or if I wanted to ask about something they missed in class during an absence. With grades being available online these days, I know when my kid hasn’t turned something in. Or if they turned it in and didn’t receive credit for it just yet. Or, if they were absent and need to know what they need to make up.

Instead of asking the teacher myself, I’ve taught my kids to approach the teacher to do this on their own. If they’re absent one day, they need to email their teachers to square around their own make-up work (many schools even have assignments posted online for students and parents to view). If my kids are struggling in a subject, they first need to ask the teacher for help or ask for opportunities to help improve their grade.

I’m learning along the way that I don’t want to micromanage their work. It’s not my job. However, it’s my job to see that my kids are taking personal responsibility to solve their own problems and step in if needed.

Guidance counselors can help ease the middle school transition.

If your child is struggling academically or emotionally to the adjustment of middle school, it’s OK to reach out to the guidance counselors. Middle school is a tough phase. It’s an awkward time, with a new-found level of responsibility and independence.  Friendships evolve, and new friends are made.

School counselors are there for your child and can be such a welcome resource if your child is struggling, so don’t hesitate to reach out for their assistance.

Middle school transition doesn’t have to be overly difficult!
Good luck on the next school year!

*This post was originally written in 2019

Tiffani is wife to David and mother to 4 boys, and they live in their self-proclaimed “frat house” in Bennington. She is a Nebraska native, freelance writer, and certified group fitness instructor. She earned her Journalism degree from the University of Denver in 1999, and returned to Omaha in 2007. As an active family, they enjoy exploring local parks and trails, participating in races, and traveling. Tiffani is an avid triathlete and runner, and completed her first (but not last) Ironman race in 2016. She writes about her adventures on her blog