Navigating the Move to Middle School: How Parents Can Help Smooth the Roads
By Shayna Brody Whitehouse, Auburn (CA) Union School District & Gloria E. Miller, University of Denver
Most of us remember middle school or junior high school as a time when we felt uncomfortable with ourselves. Often times, it was the patience of the adults in our lives that helped us through all the physical and social changes and challenges. As parents of children entering middle level schools, we hope that our children have positive experiences and travel through these early adolescent years smoothly. Transition from elementary to middle school is challenging for students because they are entering a new environment with new academic demands, new adults and authority figures, new and older students, and new facilities. At the same time, they encounter many physical and developmental changes. Support and resources for parents are needed to help them prepare to ease this transition for their children and to understand the stresses their children face. Transition anxieties and developmental changes impact the move to middle school and the success children experience. However, the actions of parents can positively impact children's academic and personal success during this move.
Studies have begun to reveal a great deal about the concerns that students have regarding the transition to middle school. When students are asked to report their worries as they enter their new school, their concerns can be categorized as (a) understanding and following rules in school and classroom and fearing authority figures, (b) forming and maintaining friendships and relationships with peers, (c) understanding academic content and requirements in many classes, (d) experiencing physical and verbal intimidation and violence, (e) learning the school layout and operation of facilities, and (f) belonging to and coping with extracurricular activities. Before transition, students report increased anxiety about most of these areas. However, as the year progresses, transition concerns fluctuate. In addition, students of different gender and ethnic groups report diverse levels and types of concerns throughout the transition year.
As students are experiencing concerns about the transition to their new environment, they also are undergoing cognitive (thinking skills), social, and physical developmental changes, which can increase their anxieties related to the new environment. Cognitively, students develop the ability to think about the deeper, more abstract meanings in ideas. These changes may make students more likely to perceive school related anxieties which, in turn, increases their transition stress. Socially, personal control over academic and social decisions is desired, as is belonging to a peer group with increased loyalty and sharing. These social needs often are not met because of the competition found in middle schools from independent work and grade comparison. As a result, peer relationships can be impacted negatively, causing stress to elevate during transition. Physically, students enter puberty and begin to feel as though everyone is watching them, creating more of a need for belonging to social groups. Additionally, students enter puberty at different times, which impacts students' concerns about their safety and ability to form peer relationships with members of the same and opposite sex.
What Parents Can Do to Ease the Move
Students are trying to cope with transition anxieties that result from entering a new school environment with new adults, peers, and academic demands. At the same time, they experience natural developmental changes, which often increase stress and require adult understanding. Parents are in the best position to support their children during this transition by understanding their children's specific worries and how their children's developmental changes impact their perception of and experience during the transition. Some specific ideas can help to alleviate your children's transition anxieties.
Easing Rules and Authority Anxieties
Taking time to meet school personnel and become familiar with school policies will help your children feel comfortable with the new authority figures and rules they encounter in middle school:
Easing Academic Anxieties
Parent involvement is key to student success in middle school:
Easing Peer Relationship Anxieties
You can help pave the way for your children's positive social relationships, both old and new:
Easing Safety Anxieties
There are a number of strategies to help you feel more comfortable regarding your children's safety at school:
Easing School Facility Anxieties
Middle school facilities can be intimidating to children accustomed to the more self-contained environment of elementary school. Some simple steps can help:
Easing Extracurricular Activity Anxieties
Middle school provides many new opportunities to explore interests:
The following resources include many other useful ideas and methods for helping children transition to middle and junior high schools.
Channing L. Bete Company, Incorporated. (1997). What every student should know about starting middle school [Brochure]. South Deerfield, MA: Author. (www.channing-bete.com)
Channing L. Bete Company, Incorporated. (2000). Helping your child move on to middle school [Brochure]. South Deerfield, MA: Author. (www.channing-bete.com)
The Parent Institute. (1999). How to get organized for homework and school [Brochure]. Fairfax Station, VA: Author. ( www.parent-institute.com/parent/resources /)
The Parent Institute. (2002). Moving right along: Ways parents can help children succeed in middle grades [Brochure]. Fairfax Station, VA: Author. ( www.parent-institute.com/parent/resources /)
© 2004, National Association of School Psychologists. Shayna Brody Whitehouse, PhD, is currently the special education preschool coordinator and a school psychologist with Auburn Union School District in Auburn, California. Gloria E. Miller, PhD, is Professor of Child, Family, and School Psychology at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado.
|Last Updated: 7/1/10|