Tips for Transition from Elementary to Middle School

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

Her son started to reel off a series of questions. “What if I can’t remember what class I go to next? What if I can’t make it to class on time?” he asked.  His mother smiled reassuringly but was a bit alarmed at how anxious her son was becoming about going to middle school.

Anxiety is a common reaction among many children as they prepare for one of the major transitions in their young lives. The transition from elementary school to middle school encapsulates a change in setting that is unlike any other children experience growing up.

One of the unique aspects is that the transition to middle school happens for many children at about the same time that they are going through puberty. Puberty marks a time of great change physically, emotionally, and cognitively as hormones surge through the body. This creates some uncertainty on its’ own.

In addition to the changes that puberty introduces in children’s lives, the structure of middle school is quite different from elementary. Children are used to the elementary setting which is a more nurturing environment and classes usually are with one of two teachers most of the time.

Middle schools have children go to multiple classrooms with different students in each class. The academic environment also changes as there are higher expectations and there is more demand to be able to negotiate the academic environment independently.

Another unique aspect of the transition is that middle school is usually larger than an elementary school. This is achieved by bringing two or three elementary schools together which means children may only know a third of the students in their class. This serves to upset the social hierarchies that have been developed during elementary school creating more uncertainty.

All of these aspects come together and make children quite anxious. However, there are steps parents can take to lessen children’s anxiety about the transition and the first weeks of the school year.

First, parents should emphasize the positive aspects of going to middle school. There will be opportunities to meet new friends, engage in extracurricular activities, and have a choice in some elective classes.

Second, parents should assist their child to effectively use his study skills. This means teaching him how to self-regulate by breaking down large tasks into more manageable pieces. Also, the child will need to become familiar with using an assignment book and knowing how it can help keep track of what needs to be done in all his classes.

Third, parents should encourage their child to participate in extracurricular activities. Typically middle schools will make children aware of all of the clubs and sports they can participate in towards the beginning of the school year. Children who participate in these clubs and sports usually have a smoother transition and more quickly feel a part of the middle school.

Finally, parents should continue their involvement with the school by communicating with teachers, attending meetings, and helping out with school events. Unfortunately middle school often marks a time when parent involvement decreases. This is the time that children need to see their parents involved in their education, even if they don’t show it.

Transitioning to middle school is a big step and can cause anxiety in children. Parents should listen to their concerns and reassure them that they are ready for this next step. They should also emphasize the opportunities that come with middle school, work with their child on study skills, and continue to stay involved with the school. These steps will make the transition go smoothly and make the child less anxious.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on August 2, 2014.

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