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Elementary school to middle school: What moms need to know

Lisa Steinke, with Liz Fenton, is the co-author of the debut chick lit novel l'll Have Who She's Having and the popular Chick Lit blog

Preparing your tween for the next three years

There's a big difference between elementary school and middle school. In fact, many moms will tell you that middle school (or junior high) was harder than high school. (Puberty, mean girls, boys...)

The challenge: The locker

Believe it or not, when tweens are asked about the number one issue that worries them about middle school, it's the lockers. "Specifically tweens worry they will have trouble opening their locker; they worry they will have trouble finding their locker especially between classes in the new building; they worry they won’t have enough time to get to their classes on time if they stop at their locker," says Powell.

How you can help: "Provide a combination lock on which your tween can practice so at least he gains confidence in his ability to get it opened and closed. Ask older siblings to offer a pep talk. If your child has an older sibling at the middle school already, ask her to keep an eye out and offer assistance before the school year starts," Powell advises.

The challenge: A bigger school

When your child transitions to middle school, the school will be considerably larger, which can be overwhelming for your child whose used to a much smaller space. "Much of what kids experience overall is the stress and anxiety associated with the change in the physical plant (the building) and the change in procedure and expectations," says Powell.

How you can help: "Parents can help quell much of their child’s anxiety. If possible, visit the school several times before opening day," suggests Powell.

The challenge: Fitting in

You can probably remember your own middle school horror stories — especially the harsh memories of trying to find the social circles you were most comfortable in. Now, your child will be going through the same thing. "This is the time when young people tend to form cliques, and there can be problems with some adolescents being ostracized or feeling like they just don't fit in," remarks Lobel. "Middle schoolers can be mean. Sometimes they don't even know they're being hurtful."

How you can help: "Keep the lines of communication open but also know when to be a mute chauffeur," proposes Lobel. "Always volunteer to carpool groups of kids. Kids often forget you're at the wheel and you can learn a lot about their social life."

The challenge: Puberty

As if juggling the emotional changes isn't hard enough, your child will also have to deal with the physical ones — like acne, the menstral cyle and growth spurts. "As puberty kicks in, your tween may be feeling a bit awkward due to changes in her body. The transition to the new and larger school can add to the discomfort," says Powell.

How you can help: Powell says that a little positive reinforcement can go a long way."Find simple ways to help build your tween’s confidence and self-esteem. Ask her to help you at home and be sure to compliment her when she does."

Stay involved

It might be your instinct to step aside because your child is getting older and becoming more responsible, but Lorio urges against this. "Many times parents automatically relinquish their authority to the child once the child hits the middle school. It is highly suggested that parents continue to monitor and keep an organized routine allowing the child to gain confidence in his new environment and additional responsibilities." Parents should stay involved by:

  • Attending school meetings, events, and/or acting as volunteers
  • Staying informed about school programs, course curriculum, teacher expectations, and students' progress on a regular basis
  • Monitoring all friendships
  • Networking with other parents
  • Supervising the child's educational and outside activities while maintaining high expectations

Read more tips for managing the middle school transition >>

More about your tween and middle school

How to deal with mean girl cliques
Helping your middle schooler have a peaceful school year
How much independence should a middle school child have?

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