Helping Preteens Transition to Middle School

The transition from elementary school to middle school is one of the most significant changes in a child’s educational life.

The transition is magnified because preteens are faced with the many major structural differences between elementary and middle school at the very time that their bodies and emotions are changing at the most rapid rates of their lives.

By understanding the following points about the nature of preteens entering middle school, parents can turn this challenging transition into a positive foundation for future interactions with their children:

  • At this age, there is a huge range of individual differences, so a task that is easy for your friend’s or relative’s children may be difficult for your child and vice versa.
  • Early adolescents have one foot in childhood and one tentative foot reaching out to adulthood.
  • Because their feet (and emotions) may be at different levels, they, at times, feel out of balance.
  • At home, you will most likely see the less mature “child” While at school, the more responsible, developing “adult” is evident in response to the many new demands placed on the middle school student.
  • Preteens entering middle school feel extremely self-conscious. If you consider your most self-conscious moment as an adult, you will have an idea how a middle school child feels much of the time.
  • Their bodies are changing so fast in so many ways at the very time that they feel it is most important to fit in, be accepted by peers, and be like everyone else. This makes them feel vulnerable and sensitive to what they perceive as criticism.
  • They are by nature very “present tense.” Adults tend to be well organized, learning from the past and carefully planning ahead. It is important for parents to keep in mind that these skills are just developing in preteens. The more parents can accept these as developing skills, the less frustrated they will be.

The key for parents is finding the balance between supporting your children and still allowing them the independence needed to grow and build their own skills. I summarize three steps toward accomplishing this in the acronym “E.S.P.”

  1. E = “enjoy:” Find time to truly enjoy your children as they enjoy the excitement of starting middle school.
  2. S = “support” Children this age will all need support from parents as they transition to middle school. The art of parenting middle schoolers is finding ways to support them that feel more like valued help than like attempts to micromanage their lives. Think of yourself more as a helpful consultant than a supervising manager. One way to achieve this is learning to be an active listener (i.e. truly listening to understand and accept your child’s thoughts and underlying feelings, rather than quickly offering solutions or judgments).
  3. P = “positive:” Train yourself to look for and find the positive in your children. At this transition point, when they are, at times, in a state of disequilibrium, it will probably be easier to find their mistakes and shortcomings. However, learning to find and acknowledge their positives is an incredibly valuable skill to develop as a parent. This will actually serve to help your preteens develop more positive attributes, which in turn makes the positives easier to find and acknowledge. Your time together at this important time in your child’s life will be more gratifying for both of you.

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