Top Ten Tips for the Transition to Middle School
- Be prepared for a roller coaster ride! This transition evokes a wide variety of emotions, behaviors, and concerns for both children and parents. It is a major stepping stone on the road to becoming an adult. It is marked by several changes in educational expectations and practices.
- Know what is happening developmentally for your adolescent. Between the ages of 11 and 14, a child experiences his/her most significant growth since infancy. Physical changes abound. The sense of emotion is heightened and thinking becomes very egocentric. Your child will show a clear desire for more independence. He/she can often feel confused because expectations from adults and peers seem at odds.
- Know what to expect academically. Your child will have more opportunities for self-expression and decision making. Team structure replaces contained classrooms. Your child will have more homework, more long-term assignments, and more ownership for academic performance. His/her organizational skills will be tuned.
- Know what you will see socially. Your child will embrace strong relationships with peers. He/she will show an increased interest in sexual orientations. He/she will try to avoid exposure and embarrassment. Technology such as instant messaging, email, cell phones, and social web sites become important networking tools.
- Treat your child with respect-even if he/she does not always treat you that way! Don't let his or her temporary behavior discourage you from staying involved, cheering his/her sporting events or musical performances, offering rides to the mall, and so on. Despite appearances to the contrary, children need and want relationships with their parents. Hold onto that knowledge when you feel hurt or angry.
- Acknowledge and encourage your adolescent's need for independence. You'll still need to set limits and provide structure, and enforce rules and consequences. But remind your teen that you trust him/her to make good choices, and that you will always be available if a situation arises that is beyond a child's experience.
- Be available to guide and advise your child. Ask questions, and listen to your child's responses. Help him/her explore solutions to peer or school problems.
- Don't stop being a role model. For instance, do you talk on your cell phone while driving? Do you always buckle your seat belt? This is a good time to acknowledge your bad choices and correct them. Your child can't make good, safe decisions when he/she is away from you if you haven't modeled them.
- Keep your sense of humor. And remember to have fun with your child. Spontaneous play and unexpected, shared laughter are great ice breakers when times are tense.
- Love your adolescent. Inside that sometimes-contentious teen is the wondrous child who brought you so much joy and who once thought you hung the moon. In just a few years, he or she will suddenly reappear-older, wiser, and once again clear-eyed enough to recognize you as the moon-hanger. All will be right with your world.
Margaret Hannah, M.Ed., is a Freedman Center Presenter, the mother of three children, and the Executive Director of the Freedman Center for Child and Family Development at William James College.