Grade Ready! Getting Your Kids Ready For Middle School

girl waving to parent as she enters middle school

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 usually means 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.”

young boy doing homework
In middle school, students develop organization and study habits that will follow them throughout their lives.

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.

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.”

two middle school students with their arms around each other's shoulder
Learning healthy boundaries and emotions are essential for middle school success.

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 of 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 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.”

Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences & Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.

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