• For kids: The Middle School Survival Guide: How to
Survive from the Day Elementary School Ends until the Second High
School Begins by Arlene Erlbach
• For parents: Making the Most of Middle School: A Field
Guide for Parents and Others by Anthony W. Jackson, P. Gayle
Andrews, Holly Holland and Priscilla Pardini
It's a time to stretch boundaries. A time to challenge
authority. A time to carve out an identity, try new things and meet
new people. It's middle school, and while it sounds exciting, it
can be quite intimidating to both kids and parents.
Leaving the insular environment of elementary school can make
even the most confident kids uneasy and nervous.
"The biggest challenge for kids at this age is how fast they are
changing emotionally and physically in addition to their
environment changing so drastically," says Dr. Susan Bartell, a
psychologist who gives seminars to kids transitioning into middle
school. "It is monumental to be going through puberty, to struggle
with daily social complications and also to balance the challenges
of a much more complex middle-school curriculum all at the same
Meeting new kids from other schools is a major part of those
first few weeks, says Bartell. "The biggest fear for many students
is social-how are they going to negotiate meeting and fitting in
with the new kids from the feeder schools that they don't
Organization is another huge issue for middle-school students,
who must juggle a variety of classes, a changing schedule and
several locker combinations along with new friends and new
"They're young and inexperienced, and there's a lot coming at
them very quickly. Without basic organizational skills,
middle-school students can become overwhelmed," says Susan
Mulcaire, author of The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the
While this can be a stressful period of change, many kids also
welcome the opportunities that middle school provides. "There are a
range of experiences that weren't available in elementary school,
like sports, student government and music," says Bartell. A chance
to meet new friends, try new things and become their own person is
a turning point and fits perfectly with their natural desire for
separation from parents, she says.
Make your child's transition to middle school as smooth as
possible by following these tips to boost their self-confidence and
help them juggle new responsibilities:
1 Attend orientation. Most schools offer an orientation for
incoming middle school students and their parents, offering
information on schedules, a tour of the school and an overview of
school policies. Attending these presentations can help demystify
the school and put both parents and child at ease.
2 Organize a home desk. If Junior breezed through homework in
elementary school, consider yourself lucky. Middle school homework
is generally much more challenging, and juggling the demands and
expectations of multiple teachers is a learning experience. Set up
a work desk at home for your student, post their schedule nearby
and stock it with extra supplies to help them prepare for the
3 Take a test drive. If your student is worried about taking the
public bus, try it out with them before school starts. If they are
concerned about their combination lock, have them practice on one
at home. Working out the kinks ahead of time will help lighten
their load when school starts.
4 Discuss hot topics. Sex. Drugs. Profanity. "Peer pressure
dramatically changes-you must start to talk about alcohol and drugs
and even sex," says Bartell, who adds that they'll hear about it by
middle school even if they don't try it. Make sure you are able to
have open discussions about these topics and let them know they can
come to you with any questions they have-even on risqué
5 Contact with the staff. If you have any major concerns about
your child's transition to middle school, get in touch with your
school experts. Most middle schools have a social worker, school
psychologist or guidance counselor available to discuss specific
concerns, keep an extra eye on your student and help ease the
6 Share your stories. Without scaring the bejeebers out of them,
tell your student a few stories about your middle-school
experiences. Did you meet a best friend? Join the band? Run track?
Remind them that you survived and pass along some of your favorite
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